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Teachers wake up in wee hours of the night with heavy hearts worried about students

Sheryl Green
Sheryl Green

I woke up early Saturday morning with a heavy heart, a feeling of overwhelm. On the heels of a much-needed two week break from school, we had just two days to take any holiday decor down, tidy up our classrooms and get last minute preparations completed before the kids came back.

I just get anxious sometimes, when I know the time has come again to assume the reigns and responsibilities surrounding our city’s most valued treasures. Anxious not because I don’t have faith in our teachers. Hopefully, you know me well enough from these columns to know that is far from the case. I’m anxious because of the weight, the heavy load we as a society place upon the backs of our teachers. And that morning I couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of overload. I woke up with Jesse on my mind. You won’t believe this, but he was one of my former students who was literally abandoned in the woods by his parents. And Clay, a young boy with grayed teeth, greasy hair and urine stained jeans who was living with a mom hooked on crack. And Kiearra, one of my students who missed over a month of school because she and her family couldn’t clean their trailer enough to get rid of the lice. Or Lamar, who witnessed his father shoot his mother and then turn the gun on himself. Or Angela, who was rescued from a sexually abusive father and placed in foster care.

Unfortunately, the list goes on and on, and the weight gets heavier and heavier.

And I’m reminded of something one of my education professors used to tell us, You can’t teach what you don’t know, so you better know. At the time, I dismissively thought that was his ploy to get us to study for his crazy, hard exams. But as I entered into this profession and have continued on this journey, I am finally understanding his double meaning. Yes, teachers study their content. We pour hours into earning degrees that proclaim we know our stuff, and we prepare for redelivery of knowledge we grasp unequivocally. That’s, perhaps, the most recognizable piece.

However, by far the greatest piece of a teacher’s required repertoire of knowledge has nothing to do with equations and facts, memorizations and cognitions. It can’t be found in a textbook or a lecture hall. And yet, it is the most vital cog in the wheel in protecting and investing in our city’s youth. It is the knowledge on how to teach Jesse and Clay and Kiearra and Lamar and Angela. But, no one can give a multiple choice test to assess a teacher’s mastery of the knowledge. A diploma doesn’t designate whether or not a teacher successfully completed the course, mainly because…there is no course

There are no undergraduate classes training us to teach a child stripped from his parents and thrust into a group home. I never took a course in college that would prepare me to teach a young girl who was prostituted by her own father. And yet, teachers are charged with doing it every day.

You can’t teach what you don’t know ...

No wonder teachers wake up in the wee hours of the night with heavy hearts.

But I also heard someone say once that we can’t give away what we don’t have. And therein lies the mighty power that sustains teachers, that makes teachers capable to do the impossible. Because there is something most, if not all, teachers have that can fill the gaps in their collegiate training, while simultaneously filling the chasms of these kids….LOVE. Love is what drives a person to teach, and it is what will help carry the burden.

Because, after all, another wise man once said, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. May I always remember that.

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus, Georgia. Email her at