Disappointment

I remember the day my mom taught me the word. The summer after sixth grade, my “boyfriend” cheated on me with my friend — whatever that means — while I was at church camp. My mom advised me to call him and tell him I was disappointed in him. I did. He laughed. I don’t think he nor I really understood the word that day, but that’s exactly what the situation was, at least for me: disappointing.

Public education is downright disappointing right now.

Last weekend, I graduated with my master’s degree in applied communication, and the first two graduates at my ceremony received their doctoral degrees in educational leadership. Imagine spending that much time and money studying something just to wind up disappointed about the field. I don’t know if that’s how either of them felt, but I know some of my colleagues are feeling the worst of it, so much so that way too many are saying goodbye to a profession they used to love.

That’s the thing I’m now learning about disappointment. I can’t say I really loved my sixth grade boyfriend, but I now know that you have to love something or someone in order to feel disappointment. Disappointment isn’t quite the same as feeling sad or angry, though that’s certainly part of it. The dictionary defines the word as follows: sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

Those doctoral graduates and all the rest of us in education pursued the profession with certain hopes and expectations, and right now, America’s public education system is in a serious crisis causing nonfulfillment of those hopes and expectations. Teachers are underpaid and overworked. Parents aren’t parenting, and students are floundering in the middle of it all. Government leaders don’t get it.

People who love kids are leaving the classroom, and everyone will soon pay the price.

In the current state of education, I feel the need to clarify that I am NOT leaving the classroom, but I also have to say that that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. I’ve been MIA on the blog again because some big life changes are happening : My husband and I are expecting our first daughter in August. That’s another topic for another day that I’m not quite ready to write about, but stay tuned because eventually I will. Mostly I’ve been writing privately to her, my daughter, because I think ultimately my writing has been for her all along.

When I nannied during the summers in college, I LOVED those girls, and I remember people telling me that someday I’d love my own child more, and I couldn’t fathom it. Teaching, coaching, and advising yearbook, I have LOVED my students fiercely, and in a few months I’ll love one tiny little person even more. That blows my mind.

My blog’s target audience is high school and college-aged girls, but this school year in particular, God has been teaching me that high school boys need love too. Even before finding out I was pregnant, I found myself transitioning into a mother-figure for many of my students this year. Teenagers — all of them — need love, and I’m not sure they’re getting that at home anymore.

I know teenage girls can be so cruel because I was one, but for years I always thought teenage boys were just dumb. This week I had two students upset with me: one who didn’t like it when I was disappointed in her for missing my class and one who took a light-hearted remark I made the wrong way. In my earlier years teaching, this would’ve kept me up at night, but my mom helped me see that these kids are testing my love.

This morning, I wrote a prayer in my journal asking God to give me the words to say to both of those kids if the opportunity arose, and of course, it did. Praying has been hard in this season of my life, but God is still there. I know because He answered.

God gave me a glimpse into the true heartbreak that teenage boys experience and DON’T express. I grew up with brothers and I married a man with his fair share of heartbreak, but I think I’m too close to them to really get it. As John Mayer said, “Disappointment has a name: It’s heartbreak.” My husband is thrilled to be a girl dad, and I’m thrilled he’s thrilled (because I’m afraid he would’ve been a little disappointed or at least heartbroken if we were expecting a boy!), but he did say the sweetest thing to me shortly after we found out we’re having a girl: If we try for another baby down the road, he actually does want a boy because that boy will have me as a mom, and that will make all the difference.

*pause for tears*

The student to whom I said a joke that sent him into an emotional spiral happens to be someone who was mistaken for my son when I walked him down to the health room last school year when he wasn’t feeling well. Our nurses asked, “Are you his mom?” We laughed, and we’ve joked that I’m his school mom ever since. Today, I really stepped into that role. I’ve had so many teenage girls in tears in my classroom over the years, but today was the first day a not-so-little boy, taller than me, fell into my arms in tears all because teenagers — boys and girls — are just plain MEAN. 

It sucks and is a serious disappointment that there are so many evil educators in the world who abuse their power and make me think twice about writing that last paragraph and loving my male students, but male students need love too. They need a safe place to feel all of their disappointments and cry if they want to because this world is a disappointment. I’m worried they’re not getting that space at home, and if they are, it’s from mothers who don’t hold them accountable or make them take responsibility for any of their actions, coddling them and taking away their son’s chance at becoming a healthy, well-adjusted man.

This school year, I’ve made a conscious effort to tell all of my students I love them, especially the ones who are difficult to love and disappoint me daily. I tell them when I’m disappointed in them, but in the same breath, I always tell them that I hold them accountable because I love them. That’s how God loves me, and I want to be a light to the lives that I have the privilege to touch in the same way.

If you’re reading this, even if you’re not an educator or if you’ve walked away from public education for any reason, I challenge you to be a light to young people and to love them well. They are the next generation. Give them rebukes and corrections with love. If you don’t do it, who will?

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