Love is on everyone's minds right now, whether it's the love they have in their lives or the love they wish they had. One thing most people can agree upon is that love is complicated. There are so many kinds! Romantic love, parental love, childhood love, tough love.
Teachers also have a special love for their students and their classrooms. You can tell the really committed ones: they open their rooms early for kids to chill in until the first bell. They eat lunch with students and tell jokes with them, sometimes hug them. Some become their students' confidants and surrogate parents.
I am not one of those teachers.
I need my space.
I like eating alone, at home.
I'm not a hugger.
I don't want to know students' secrets.
I don't have it in me to parent other people's kids.
Why can't I go there? My bucket is big enough for six preps, plus grading and planning, and an occasional lunch meeting. Given free rein, by nature I would overwork myself, overtax my time, and overwhelm the straps of my schoolbags. If I'm with students straight from 7:30-4:15, then spend my evenings and weekends with them virtually by grading and doing armchair planning, if I hold their confidences and help guide their personal lives - well, that bucket is too full. I can no longer carry it. And if the bucket contents begin to slosh out, that means I've undermined my own ability to love every moment of my time in the classroom.
I've often felt guilty about this, defensive in explaining why I like to be alone in the mornings. Maybe a little envious of teachers whose doors are always open. Sometimes an awkward back-pat takes the place of a proper hug, and I wonder why I can't cross that line. But underneath this pressure is a hard fact: I know my limits.
And those limits are essential because I must protect this job, the one I love so much, from myself. I want to love my students, my work, even grading. I want to be my best when I'm with the students, assessing their performance, coaching them to improve. I want to show students good ways to live their lives through the work we do together in the classroom. This doesn't happen if I've flatlined from exposure. Thus boundaries are necessary, restraint crucial.
So my students can wait until the bell.
They can eat with each other.
They can find a counselor for their confidences and hugs.
For me to thoroughly commit to my students, I must unapologetically hold back.
And holding back means simply this: loving more deeply.