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It's Never Enough


It's Never Enough

Tabitha Helms

I love teaching. I really do. I love working with kids. I love thinking of creative ways to help them learn new concepts. I love seeing the rewards of my labor. But sometimes all the behind the scenes stuff I do seems like it's never enough. 

One of my biggest frustrations about the teaching profession is that people don't see what we really do. They see crafts sent home, read letters about us doing an apple unit next week, hear what their kid says happened that day, and know we get summers off. They think our job is finished when the students get sent home at the end of the day.

Summer Vacation

Let me give you a peak into my week and everything I did that was related to teaching.

  • I was on campus at work for 46 hours and 25 minutes this week.
  • I had a parent teacher conference that wasn't supposed to take place for another two weeks that had to be prepped for early.
  • I had an official, sit-down planning time with the other first grade teacher and too many to count walk-in meetings with her throughout the week to make sure I understood things, to check that we were copying the right papers,  to brainstorm about more work we could do for specific students, to be united in what we were telling parents, etc. These "quick meets" happen at least 3 times a day and are very effective for us being a great team. 
  • I brought work home with me every day this week, including the weekend. 
Work After Hours
  • I stayed up until 11:00/11:30 every night doing that work. (That makes over 60 hours of work I put in during the week, not including the weekend.)
  • I found 35 new ideas to enhance my classroom on Pinterest for our apple unit, number line lesson, greater than/less than lesson, the desk fairy, pack up routine, book reports, daily 5 centers, sight words, and parts of speech. 
  • I answered an email from a parent that wants harder homework.
  • I moved desks after students left to fix some talking/speedy worker problems. 
  • I copied a week's worth of work and sorted it for next week. 
  • I snacked from my candy jar when I worked late because I'm hypoglycemic after school.
  • I missed lunch twice because I was too busy prepping.
  • Two days this week, I didn't have time to go to the restroom until 1:30pm.
  • I checked inside every student's desk to make sure all the papers were put away neatly and left rewards coupons for those that were. 
  • I graded approximately 350 papers of in-class work, 98 homework pages, and 56 tests.
  • I counted and submitted 42 Highlights Magazine orders.
  • I lesson planned, wrote a newsletter, updated my class website, created an online sign up sheet, sent home a homework letter, wrote down every parent teacher conference name and time, and crafted a class needs letter.

I will spare you the rest. This is a normal work week for me. And might I mention that doesn't even include my home life of trying to have some quality time with my husband, cooking dinner, cleaning up the house enough so fruit flies stop coming, grocery shopping, and taking care of two dogs--one with a Cone of Shame on at the moment, and the other who destroys something new in the house daily, whether that be chewing paint of the wall baseboard, peeing on the carpet, eating the plastic handle off a lint roller, or putting holes in our clothes, shoes, and glasses. 


The past two weeks have been especially frustrating with some added emotions of grieving untimely deaths, so that I was just plumb worn out. My heart was hurting, and I was giving my all to my job--working so much that I missed my husband even though I was with him every day. And then I had a parent email me asking me for the rest of her daughter's work while she's on vacation. I had only been given 4 days notice of those 8 days to be missed, which covered 2 weeks of lesson planning, which was just not physically possible for me to do.

I knew I was allowed to not have it all put together for her because I wasn't given 2 weeks notice like I was supposed to, and yet I still felt like a failure. The extra hours I spent copying papers early, sorting them, and handwriting instructions for each page seemed to mean nothing, because I didn't do it all. I didn't spend every waking moment of my life just getting her stuff together, and I felt guilty. To be honest, I just cried and cried when I got that email because I didn't know how to do it all. I didn't know how to be superwoman. And I felt like it was all my fault for not having it all figured out. It seemed like every reason I had for not doing it was just an empty excuse. In the end, I just wasn't enough. I hated having to tell her the next day that I did as much as I could, and it wouldn't be a big deal for her to not have the rest because she's a smart girl and those few pages wouldn't mess up her grade that much in the long run. You know what the response was? "Can you email them to me when they're done so I can have her do the work on time?" "No. Please stop making more work for me! I have worked so hard and furiously on this already that I have felt sick with exhaustion," my head was screaming at me. I can't do it all! At what point am I allowed to say, "No" to people? 

Modern Schoolteacher

Last night, I felt physically sick. The lack of sleep and the hurried pace I'd been running day after day in addition to the heavy emotions I carried were finally getting to me. My husband was a rockstar and saved the day--taking the responsibility for our Friday night worship leading so I could stay home, take a bath and sleep. And then I got another email from a parent that I had responded to earlier that day about why I wasn't going to send harder homework for her advanced child (after collaborating with the other first grade teacher and making sure we were unified in the matter that homework is for refreshing on what we learned in class and building a habit of doing homework every night rather than making them work hard after doing so all day). My previous answer didn't seem to please her, so I had to come up with some ideas of what extra things he could do at home that didn't involve me having to come up with more stuff that I had to do. I already am adding in more things in the classroom to keep him challenged, and to have to search for and find 272 more homework papers that were harder for him to do this year was just not something I could take on. Is that wrong of me? Am I allowed to say, "No?"

These questions have weighed on me heavily, making me doubt my effectiveness as a teacher, a professional, and a wife. I can't do it all, so does that make me not good enough? I'm not blaming the other people in this post. I know they're just doing their own thing and being concerned for their kid's education, as they should be. Many parents are not involved at all, so I know these students are blessed in that way. I'm just frustrated that no one seems to think about how much I already did or am doing or am planning to do to educate them just as well as every other student in my class using whatever means necessary to meet them at their level. 


I guess I post all this to say, I'm doing the best I can. I'm working more than I probably should. I'm trying desperately to figure out how to teach a new grade, get enough sleep, be involved at church, and be a good wife. And if any of you have any advice on what things are okay to say "No" to in the teaching profession, I'm all ears!

Back to my grades...