Tough Choices in Teaching

How Do I Choose?

As I sit here, reflecting back on my teaching career, one major thing keeps floating to the surface. Choices. The ability to choose between right and wrong. Between good and bad. Between good, better and best. And also the fact that many of our choices are taken from us. Those are the ones that hurt the most.

So I sit here, quietly thinking, of all the choices I had to make. Some that seemed easy and others that seemed nearly impossible. Maybe if I put them out into the universe, answers will come.

Some of them are simple. Ones like “How do I choose the right seating arrangement for my class?” or “Which book should we read next in guided reading?”

Others become more complex.

“How do I balance my family with my students?” or “How can I reach Calvin when no one else has been able to?”

Others feel impossible.

How do I choose between testing my students to death and proving that I am a “proficient” teacher? Merit pay, progress monitoring, state testing, and ever-changing standards are killing my soul.

How do I choose between my 13 special education students and my 9 ELL students? There is only one of me. How can I meet the needs of all of these students? I don’t have any special training in autism nor do I speak Urdu, Arabic, Navajo, or Spanish.

How do I choose between the student who has no socks or coat or the student whose shoes are being held together by duct tape? My paycheck seems so meager when there are so many in need.

How do I decide whose family to buy Christmas presents for? Juan’s family who has 9 people in a one-bedroom apartment with just a mattress on the floor? Jackie’s family whose mom just overdosed on drugs and the dad is no where to be seen?

How do I teach my class when Michael is literally throwing his desk and crawling around the room barking like a dog? How can I keep my kids safe when I am scared of one of them?

How do I teach the student whose only good meal is the lunch she gets at school? I know that the granola bars I am slipping her aren’t going to be enough.

How do I meet all of the standards with no materials or training?

How do I work with that one teacher who is so rude and hurts my feelings weekly? Sometimes daily?

How do I deal with the crushing sense that I’m not making a difference? That my lessons and work and stress and tears amount to nothing? My students are 8. Will they really remember anything from this year?

In these crushing moments of despair and darkness, I look at the faces of my students and some of these dark questions are replaced with light.

How am I so lucky to be in charge of 25 amazing little people?

How can I ever explain to people what that moment of understanding in Abdul’s eyes means?

How do I make Megan know that she has touched my heart with her hard work and determination?

How do I explain that my job is not just a job? It’s more than a career, more than a life choice. It’s a calling. It’s something that I have been drawn to my whole life.

So even with all these questions, these overwhelming, stunningly vast questions, I continue on. I roll out of bed at 6:00 a.m. I work late nights and weekends and holidays. I hoard baby food jars, extra pieces of yarn, Ziploc baggies, and old magazines like they are gold. I show up early and leave late. I call home with good news and email parents about progress. And yes, I even administer tests.

I do this because they need it.

I do this because it’s worth it.

I guess that’s my answer.


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Meet the author
Cassie Tabrizi
Cassie Tabrizi
After being in elementary education for 14 years, and as founder of Create-Abilities, Cassie is passionate about helping fellow educators empower their teaching.
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