When You Give More Than You Can Recover

When you give more than you can recover, you end up with a deficit. Run deficits long enough, and your stores are depleted. Your savings gone. It’s true in finance, but also true for physical exertion and emotional labor.

At the end of May, the many outstanding teachers I know have a debt-ridden look in their eyes. They have given more than they can possibly make up, day after day, week after week. The teachers I know have spent extra hours tutoring, counseling students, writing heartfelt and personal recommendation laters, coaching, advising, fielding late-night calls and emails, agonizing over grades, auditions, and more. The teachers I know give more than they can recover.

They have put in the hard emotional work of teaching since August.

They are depleted.

The hardest part of teaching isn’t the teaching. (That’s plenty hard.) It isn’t the grading (which occupies uncounted hours every week).

The hardest part of teaching is the emotional labor of being the adult that your students need you to be. As the emotional turmoil of the American youth is demonstrably increasing, the teacher’s emotional responsibility to their students increases.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet schools and teachers are asked, year after year, to do more with less. Increase test scores while paying more out of pocket. Raise standards as budgets are lowered. Improve outcomes as inputs are diminished.

In the coming months, educational policy will, I think, come to the forefront of American debate. It is too easily overlooked that our teachers are on the emotional front lines of a mental health crisis. And they are running an emotional deficit every day.

What do you suppose will happen when they have nothing left?