Today, my Jenga tower fell.
Teaching students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD) feels a lot like playing Jenga. Every day, I proceed carefully, cautiously, watching for tiny signs, warnings that something might cause the tower to collapse. Today it did.
It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to stay this hyper-alert. It takes a lot of heart, patience and will. There are days when it looks like the tower is indestructible and all my hard work will pay off.
And then there are days like today.
Today, I learned some of my students made some very bad decisions. Despite all my time and interventions. Despite spending hours writing their IEPs and implementing accommodations. Despite being vigilant, building trust and offering unwavering support— they made some very bad decisions.
“How do you feel?” my principal asked, after delivering the news to me.
I thought for a while, trying to identify the weight of sadness and disappointment I felt lodged in my chest. Finally, I was able to describe it.
I feel like a mom.
I feel deflated and defeated in the way that probably only a parent can. Month after month I spend hours every day with my students. Sadly, some days I spend more time with my students than my own children. I feel heartbroken.
We can accommodate, modify and support our students through pretty much everything—but we can’t always save them from themselves.
Today was a reminder of just how much teachers invest in their students. How much we sacrifice and how uncertain the reward is.
We aren’t guaranteed our students will try to do well on the standardized tests whose results affect our salaries. We aren’t guaranteed our parents, communities or governments will support us. We aren’t guaranteed our students will make good choices. We aren’t guaranteed all our hard work will pay off.
And knowing this, we do it any way.
Day in and day out, parents and teachers give their all. We have no guarantees that things will turn out. Sometimes we are caught off-guard when things go so unexpectedly wrong.
But, we do it anyway.
Days like today, we need to remember the good decisions. We need to remember that for some students, coming to school is the highlight of their day. Some students cannot wait to get to school to share a story with their favorite teacher. Some students feel solely comforted and loved by the teacher they often accidentally call, mom.
Tomorrow is a new day and tomorrow I will start building a new Jenga tower. Tomorrow I will be there for my students. Tomorrow I will once again put my heart on the line. Tomorrow I will again give it my all—with no guarantees.