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The Things We Carry

A long time ago, when I was a much younger man, I read a book called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend doing so. But one of the things I took away from reading the text was as a reminder of the things that all veterans, myself included, carry with us; the memories, both good and bad, the emotions, etc. But one thing that I never thought I would ever do is relate my current job to the title in the book. As a child I never imagined my teacher as carrying burdens of their own like a sack of rocks slung on their backs. Nevermind the personal issues we all face, being a teacher means carrying burdens I never thought existed. 

Last week, I found out about the tragedy that one student is facing. Of course, I know that these tragedies occur every day. But with just as much naivety as I had when I was a young soldier and believed myself invincible, I never considered the idea that this inevitably would impact me. Working in such a large district, it was incredibly foolish for me to ignore the statistical reality. What is worse, the burden is not something I can share with others. I cannot even tell the other teacher in the room. Sure, there are others who know. But it’s still not something I can open up with when I’m feeling especially beleaguered by the secret. 

The burden of keeping the secret is exacerbated by the fact that I have no way of helping and didn’t even notice in the first place. I know that I can be there for this person. I know that I can offer support whenever it’s warranted and needed. But that doesn’t mean I can replace the helpless feelings in the moment. It doesn’t help that I am the kind of person who needs to talk things out. Holding secrets has never been my forte. 

This is not the only rock in my rucksack that I carry. It just seems to be the heaviest right now. It’s easy to talk to students and offer help. What’s not easy is following through with those words with deeds and actions. I realized on Monday that my word was not upheld when I failed to remember to check on a student who is struggling to get to school. This person is taking an Uber. To remedy this, I have scheduled to pick him up on Thursday in my calendar. Sometimes we add to the mass we accumulate on our backs. 

Yet, when think of the rucksack as an analogy for carrying the burdens of teaching, I think about my time in the army. I think about the road marches at Ft. Carson where 3 or 4 of us were always up front, doing our own thing. Pushing ourselves beyond the limits required because we prided ourselves in the extra weight and effort we were putting in to the workout. Sometimes I feel that I still do this by throwing extra weight in my proverbial bag and sprinting from waypoint to waypoint, just to prove how strong I am. Don’t we all?

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