After the bell rang for lunch, I sat slumped at my desk in my empty classroom. My eyes glazed over the vacant desks, and landed on the stack of assignment drafts that I had just collected – 30 essays. I closed my eyes and slid forward in my chair, resting my head on my arms in front of me.
I was burnt out, overwhelmed, and tears streamed down my face. I now had 90 assignments to mark and grade in the next 3 days. It was that time of the term again. I struggled to do the Maths – five classes of 30 kids, two assessment pieces per term, drafting and grading equals 2,400 papers to mark each academic year. My brain got fuzzy.
At the start of my teaching career, I was motivated by empty classrooms, dreaming of how I could ignite passion in my students, engage them, educate them, help them become whatever they wanted to be. The possibilities of this career were endless.
Now, five years later, I felt empty inside. Drained. Stretched to my limit. So exhausted that I felt it in my bones. Dreams of leaving the profession crept into my mind for the third time that week, and it was only Tuesday.
After about half an hour of crying alone, I collected all my work and headed back to the staffroom, filled with stressed and anxious colleagues, chocolate wrappers littering the floor. I scrambled into the room, my arms bursting with my laptop and the 90 assignments I had to mark.
My glasses sat askew on the side of my head, and four senior students trailed behind me, asking for feedback on drafts (how do they always find me?!). It was then that I received a phone call.
It was administration, informing me that I had received a package. I frowned into the phone, racking my brain, trying to remember if I had ordered something to the school. Confused, I hung up, grabbed my keys and went to investigate.
The lady on the front desk handed me a big bunch of flowers. My mind immediately went into overdrive, had I missed an anniversary? I admired the beautiful flowers, wrapped in hessian, on my walk back to the staffroom. I read the small card attached to the bunch:
Thank you Ms Hyde, for shining your light on our daughter. She has fallen in love with English because of you. Thank you.
I ran into a deserted classroom, tears streaming down my face (for the second time that day). I sobbed into the beautiful pink flowers. The gift was from a parent of one of my year 7 students. To have a parent of one of my students recognise what I was doing, and how hard I was working on a daily basis confirmed everything I love about this profession.
In an industry that is rarely recognised or valued in our society, a parent had taken the time in their day, to brighten mine. The small gesture left me awestruck.
LISTEN: Dear parents, this is everything teachers want you to know (post continues after audio...)
I can safely admit that this bunch of flowers saved me. I was on the edge of quitting the job I love so much because I was burnt out. It motivated me, inspired me and revitalised me. It helped me get back to the core of my job - the kids.
I was reminded of why I got into this incredible profession in the first place. The expectations placed on teachers from government policy, administration and parents is relentless. Not to mention the social assumption that all teachers are ‘glorified baby-sitters’. But in that moment, I forgot playground duty, staff meetings, student meetings, marking drafts and grading exams.
It’s so easy to feel the pressure, but the kids are the reason I love my job. It’s something I had forgotten. I was burnt out, and I wasn’t able to give 100% to my kids, and that killed me. These flowers were oxygen. And a lot changed for me that day.
If you're a teacher, what are the gestures you remember? The things that made a difference to how you feel about your job?
Michelle Hyde is a freelance writer, currently based in Budapest, Hungary. After six years teaching, she took leave from the profession she adores, to travel the world with her husband, and pursue her passions. She loves teaching, and upon returning to Australia, will get back into the classroom.