My heart broke again today.

The reason for today’s heartbreak? A fellow teacher, one who has been at his school for “double digit years,” and one who is loved by his students, uttered the now all-too-familiar refrain of defeat.

“I will leave mid-year if this continues.”

For those of us who have been there, and we gather in increasing numbers, that pain is very real. Perhaps his pain is like mine, and I know some of the circumstances are the same, but I hope the grief is not as deep.

If he follows through, he, like me, will have people stare and mutter comments under their breath. Perhaps he will have former colleagues turn and walk in the opposite direction when they see him in the grocery store, at a board of education meeting, or at the gym. Like me, he will try to be patient, because they do not know the depth of the physical, mental, and spiritual anguish that led them to that decision. They don’t know about students who come to share that teachers are making disparaging remarks about them in front of classes, they don’t know what it is to cry on the phone with a union rep who is begging you to stay, (eighteen years of positive evaluations, after all), when you can hardly speak because you are sobbing so hard between every word that full sentences become impossible, even for an English teacher. They don’t know eating alone every day because someone on your “team” said to a colleague, “Why would you sit with Bronwyn?” They don’t know retaliation for speaking up about disparities in class size, or teachers whose status as sycophant allows them to come in late on a regular basis or send students back to study hall on a whim. They don’t know waking up with pains in your chest, or making sub plans while your sister is dying in the hospital, or teacher assistants who sit in the back of the room playing with an I-phone for forty minutes, swaddled by a deep friendship with a special education teacher who will do nothing about it. They don’t know a colleague who stands in front of your full classroom and loudly exclaims, “You don’t know what you’re doing! You’re not helping anyone!”

I pray that his pain is not as deep as mine, and of course, my wish is that he will find the strength to make it through the year, but if he doesn’t, he can rest assured that I will not be the fellow teacher who turns and walks away.

Instead, I will offer the two words that I hope will bring some measure of comfort.

“I understand.”

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