A Teacher's Spouse

by Elison Alcovendaz

Early in our relationship, Patty and I watched a movie called Freedom Writers. It starred Hilary Swank as a young teacher in a low-income school who dedicated a big part of her life to kids who faced so many other life issues that education was not a priority. The movie scared me. Patty and I hadn't become real serious yet, but I saw her dedication to her students. In the film, Swank's husband couldn't take the late nights, the constant focus on kids, the major extent of her emotional capacity spent on worrying about her students. I was scared because I could see this happening. And it made me feel like a real ass.

A couple of weekends ago I attended the wedding of two middle school math teachers. My wife, who teaches middle school English, and I sat at a table with four other middle school teachers. When I find myself in such situations, I like to play a game: how soon will they start talking about work and students and Common Core, how long will they talk about it, when will they decide to stop talking about these topics, and then when will they start talking about them again. This is a facetious game that I play in my head, but in truth these aren't teachers who are complaining about their job, these are teachers who love their job so much, care about their students so much, that even on the summer break everyone admires, they talk, read, lesson plan, bounce ideas off each other, attend trainings, all to help kids develop into successful people. 

Not all teachers are like this, of course. There are bad teachers like there are bad people in any profession. Bad teachers aren't the ones who necessarily get bad test scores, they are the ones who are checked out, no longer care, or are in it for the wrong reasons. To be a spouse of a teacher like this would probably be much easier. When tax time came, you wouldn't have to worry about figuring out how much in Teacher's Expenses you can write off (not that it really matters, since you can only write off $200 anyway). You wouldn't have to worry about your spouse coming home late because a kid with a rough home life had something horrific happen to them after school, or planning your wedding and vacations and possible pregnancies around summer break because to do otherwise would hurt students, or your spouse going in to work when they can hardly walk because hey - one day with a bad substitute teacher can cause weeks or months of delayed lessons.

I am not married to such a teacher.

We carpool. I have an eight hour job. Sometimes, when I get off work, I have to find something to do for 1, 2, 4 hours because of some unplanned emergency that always seems to happen in middle school. We no longer worry about keeping receipts throughout the year - kids need books, pencils, notebooks, and sometimes even food - so we just mark our allotted $200 on our 1040 and go on our merry way. When you are constantly around teachers, you hear stories - parents who never call you back about a kid's failing grades but scream at you when you take their kids' bubblegum away, kids for whom calling CPS is a common occurrence, about staying after school with your classroom open so kids whose parents can't afford day care have some place to stay for a while... oh, and on top of being a surrogate parent, psychologist, coach, mentor, babysitter, club leader, dance and field trip organizer, they also teach! Crazy, huh?

Which is why I often feel like a jerk. For a lot of the students, teachers are the only adults that students connect with. The role of the teacher in a person's life cannot be overlooked. I know this. I understand this. And yet, when so much of Patty's energy and time go to her students that when she gets home, she doesn't even feel like talking anymore because she has been doing so all day, I get annoyed. When Patty didn't want to take more than three days off for our wedding because it was STAR testing (and 100 PERCENT OF KIDS HAVE TO BE PROFICIENT BECAUSE THAT'S SUCH A REAL, LOGICAL EXPECTATION), I tried to understand. Sometimes, the students have to take precedence. But I still felt like a jerk. I felt like a jerk when she took some of the books we bought for ourselves to her classroom. I felt like a jerk when she took on a bunch of extracurricular duties. And yet, I love her because she is this person. I wouldn't want her to ever be anyone else. We are friends with our wedding table mates because they are these people, too. They are the teachers you would want your kids to have.

Whenever something newsworthy happens in education, I read the online news articles and scroll through the comments. It's amazing how many idiots (yes, idiots) think teachers are overpaid or are the reason kids are entitled or are one of society's biggest problems. Teachers have these kids for a couple hours a day, tops, and they are supposed to battle TV, the internet, their home life, a world of instant gratification, Facebook, smart phones, poverty, lack of resources, dwindling community support, uninvolved parents, gangs and drugs and abuse in the home, a government and system that values test scores over learning, language and cultural barriers, poor pay, administrative difficulties, hormonal puberty, and myriad other issues. It's amazing what people can say behind the anonymity of a comment board. But after reading all of this idiocy, I just look across the couch and see Patty, marking up a novel she's going to teach, and I think of all of our friends at that table, using their own cash to attend trainings during the summer, trying to be innovative with new technologies, updating their lesson plans, and I somehow know the future - and our future - will be just fine.