Why You Need These Kinds of Teacher Friends

Why You Need These Kinds of Teacher Friends

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You know by now that having friends at work is key. Teaching is hard, and you need someone to pick you up on the rough days and to celebrate with you on the good ones. One thing I’ve learned over several years of teaching at different schools, though, is that you need to cultivate variety in your teacher friend base:

The Sassy Friend: This is the person you go to when you have tried to be sugar sweet to your kids all day, but someone in the situation is just being a/an [insert your own bad word here. This is a Catholic blog, guys.] For me, this is my friend Kate, who loves the kids to pieces but has just the right turn of phrase when the seventeen-year-olds are acting a whole lot like three-year-olds.

The Holy Friend: Okay, okay, I’ll admit it. This is me. I am not holy but am good at faking it, and when people come to me to complain, I’ll listen and then offer some nice words that end with something like, “The Lord is pleased with your efforts, even when things don’t turn out the way you’d like them to…actually, especially in those cases.” This is sometimes helpful, but not always, which is why you need your other peeps.

The “Let Me Take That One for You” Friend: I have only found two of these in my eight years, but they are awesome and worth waiting for. This is the person who says, Let me put on my department chair/lead teacher hat and just do whatever you’re trying to do but it isn’t working. As in, talk with that scary parent, say nice things to the principal on your behalf, coordinate yet another after school activity for your middle schoolers, or take your class at the last minute so you can actually catch a deep breath. Shout out to my friends Adam and Erin, who are true gems in this regard.

The “Let’s Drink” Friend: I’m mostly kidding on this one, but let’s just say that only certain people secretly stash champagne in their office and pull it out at just the right time, like to kick off Christmas Break. And only certain people agree to meet you after work for a drink and have already had a cold one by themselves by the time you arrive at the bar. I won’t name names here, but you know who you are, and I love you for it. For the record, I am pretty bad at drinking, but I dig the experience of hanging out in a dimly-lit booth with a Jack and Coke in hand.

The Chipper in a Non-Annoying Way Friend: I know a thing or two about being chipper in the annoying way due to my problem of rising early, drinking coffee, and accomplishing too much by 6 am, but I also know an amazing someone who comes by my room regularly before school and is cheery in the best possible way. Susan, who literally rises early so she can read the Gospel, eat her oatmeal and play with her cat Fred (or knit a sock) before school begins, is the most fun person to be with in the morning ever. She has a knack for being real about the crappy things in life yet delighted by the little things in life. When I found out that she often has a 10 am cookie break, I was like, “I want to be just like Susan when I grow up.” More than that, she has this uncanny way of showing up on days when I am feeling blue. Whoever in your life fits this bill, they deserve a big pat on the back today.

The Snide Email Replier Friend: I can always count on Jeff for the quickest and snarkiest email responses. Let’s be honest: No matter how efficiency-minded you are at work, there’s always time for a good back-and-forth with someone about less serious topics. Each year, we engage in a half-friendly, half-serious debate with Adam about what color paper we should use to copy our final exams. (The dilemmas of high school English teachers, right?) Jeff has been known to send very picky preferences…who knew there was such a difference between yellow and goldenrod…but he never ceases to entertain me. The best part about such email replier friends, as you’ve probably found, is you get to sneak that fun colleague banter into your day, even with people whom you don’t normally see often in person.

The Lunch Buddy Friend: You may need this friend for several reasons: You love lunch and like to get there as early as possible without looking greedy, so you bring a friend. You need a midday break to either a) vent or b) talk about something totally unrelated to work, like your favorite musicians from the 70s (shout out to Edward and Arthur!!) Or, you need someone to force you to stop working and actually be kind to yourself (shout out to Julie!). Whatever the reason, this is the person who cracks you up, offers you freeze-dried mango, and reminds you that there’s much more to life than your little bubble. They rock.

The Funny Stories Friend: Kids do dumb things in class and so do teachers. My friend Rachel has a knack for retelling these stories in ways that make me want to cry, they’re so funny. And seriously, teenagers (and middle schoolers and grade schoolers, for that matter), are pretty hilarious. You need a friend like this to make you laugh, especially after a rough day that doesn’t allow you to go out with your drinking friends afterwards.

The Mom Friend: Some of us have like three of these; my position is that more is always better, in the case of the mom friend. Pretty self-explanatory: she’s the one who feels bad for you (even when it’s probably your fault that you’re in this particular situation), brings you Starbucks just because, and regularly compliments you on your outfit. Sally, cheers to you.

I haven’t covered all of them, but this is a start. Hopefully you’ll make your own list and then tell your friends what category they’re in…and tell them how grateful you are to work together.

When Our Students Suffer: How to Keep the Faith

A Meditation on Pope Benedict’s Address to Catholic Educators at The Catholic University of America

Address delivered on April 17, 2008

I can’t count the number of times that I have worried about a student. Maybe it was the high school freshman who worked so hard to hide the cut marks on his wrist, the student who slept during every study hall and any class she could get away with because she was dealing with untreated mental illness and an unsupportive family, or the sweet, insecure kids who dilly-dallied on their way to lunch because they didn’t feel welcome at any table. Gosh, they steal our hearts, don’t they? 

I’m pregnant now and expecting my first biological child, but I feel like I’ve been a spiritual mom to many, many kids over my past eight years in the classroom. My own mom, a teacher at heart although on never professionally, has often reminded me that the greatest suffering is Mary’s suffering: standing at the foot of the cross and watching her beloved Son die. Our Lady must have felt so powerless. Absolutely powerless.

“How have you made it this far?” I’ve asked some of my more well-seasoned colleagues, pros who have been teachers for decades. It’s hard for all of us to put words around what keeps us going when we’re powerless in the face of the suffering of the one we love, even if we’re not related by blood. Pope Benedict, in his address to Catholic Educators at the Catholic University of America in 2008, said it’s all about entrusting ourselves to God. And of course, in entrusting our own hearts to God, we can give Him everyone on our hearts, including our students and their families.

I love how Pope Benedict put it:

“Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in – a participation in being itself”(9).

Yes. We are all scared to entrust ourselves to a God we can’t see or hear. Sometimes it’s almost impossible for us to believe that He is a good God when we see the most vulnerable get hurt, and yet Mary believed He was good always, even when she held her dead son in her arms. Meditating on the Pietà or praying the Stations of the Cross or Divine Mercy Chaplet offer us pathways into this deep, mysterious faith, a faith that is now gloriously radiant in the Queen of our Resurrected Lord, our Regina Caeli.  

As educators, it’s tempting to use our freedom to opt out rather than opt in, to hold our students and their families at an emotional arm’s length because there is so much to suffer when you teach and share life with twenty to 120 students. But no, we must freely choose to share their struggles with them. We’re not the Savior (and never will be, thank heavens!), but we know the Savior, and we can invite Him into whatever our spiritual children experience.

Pope Benedict closed his address by saying, “To all of you I say: bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy”(20). Yes, we must pray each morning so that we go to school nourished and ready to witness. We must let Jesus encounter us again and again, especially in the questions and the aches that accompany all parenting, spiritual and physical. And we must account for the hope that characterizes our lives; namely, that He has risen, He is alive, and He walks with us and our students every step of the way.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. “Meeting with Catholic Educators: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI.” Apostolic Journey to the United States of America and Visit to the United Nations Organization Headquarters, 17 April 2018, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. Address.

*In-text citations refer to paragraph numbers added by this author for ease of location.
You may find the full address here: http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2008/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080417_cath-univ-washington.html

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