By Alison Manning
“There is no way I can do this anymore.” Those are the words that just about every teacher has said at some point in his or her career.
I utter those words just about every year around May. I would be lying if I said I haven’t truly thought of leaving the teaching profession at least once. I am often asked why I stick with it. For the past 14 years, I have taught high school English and theater arts. In those years, education has changed in many ways.
Education places considerable demands and stress on classroom teachers. Funding cuts, increased class sizes, added emphasis on standardized tests and impossible observation requirements have made many new teachers flee in the first five years.
Sitting at my desk ready to pack up my belongings and considering early retirement, the bell rings, and the students come pouring in through my door. As I observe each one, I remember how two days ago one of them was thrilled because he aced my “ridiculously hard test” (his words, not mine), and I smile as I recall how funny one of the stories shared by another student was the day before. One particular student can’t wait to tell me that she read ahead in the book and she cried at the end because “I just couldn’t believe how sad the ending was.” As the day goes on, I share laughs, triumphs and dreams with the numerous students whose paths cross mine. I also have listened and attempted to hold back tears as students have told me about a mother or a father who is an addict.
Teaching is not easy. It never has been. It is more than making awesome lesson plans, having great test scores and getting a top score on an evaluation. It took me a few years to realize that. I believe our children are our most important investment in the future, and it is in that future that I am still investing.
When my first class of the day begins and I am in a world that my students and I have created together, I remember why I still come into the classroom day after day and year after year. I see a folder I keep on my desk with the words, “It’s all worth it,” written on it. Inside are each and every thank-you card, Christmas card, graduation invitation and note that I have received. There are Post It notes with “We love you Mrs. Manning” and smiley faces written on them. As I read over these pieces of paper, I can’t help but laugh a little at a couple of apology notes from a few students who weren’t always easy. A handwritten note says, “We hope your Mom gets better!” with all the students’ names crammed on it. My students had left it on my desk when I was out caring for my ailing mother. Then I remember how, after my mother’s death, my theater arts class took up money among themselves to buy my family dinner after her funeral.
These small gestures and moments bring me back day after day and year after year. What keeps me in the classroom remains the very thing that attracted me in the first place: I get to spend my days with the most amazing people—my students. That makes this whole crazy profession worth all the aggravation.
Alison Manning (Knoxville ’98) (pictured center, in green) teaches English and theater arts at Cumberland Gap High School.