My husband comes home ravenous again. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, and he’s making himself a burger. I stand in the kitchen and talk to him. He will eat a full dinner not two hours later. “I’m so sorry,” he apologizes between bites to me. “I brought granola to school for breakfast but you know what happens.”
I know exactly what happened. He had hungry kids, again. And he was out of apples. So he gave away his breakfast. He didn’t have time to eat lunch because he had to grade papers, substitute for someone else’s class, or fill out paperwork. So he hasn’t eaten since he woke up this morning. Hence: a burger at 4:30 pm.
The hungry kids are one of the most heart-wrenching parts of being a teacher’s wife. Because you know they’re there; you hear about them every day. Your partner talks about them, sometimes, and you imagine faces for them. But you’re powerless to do anything more than pick up some extra snacks at the grocery store and think of them while you do, praying your partner can sneak them some extra to get them through the weekend.
You know the ones who get bullied. You know the ones who lose a family member. You know the ones who are depressed, whose parents aren’t paying enough attention, the ones who need professional help and aren’t getting it.
You know them because their teacher — your spouse — has to carry a burden of pain for them, and you have to help them carry that burden. You know some of them are in foster care, and it’s all you can do not to tell then to just bring those kids home. You know they can’t do that through, but you wish you could.
You know the late nights. You know the grading that never ends, that stretches into the wee hours of the morning, that steals their evenings and robs them of their nighttimes. Parents and schools demand more evaluations than ever now, and more evaluations means more grading. If your partner teaches several sections of classes, that’s a lot of grading, a lot of reading. It’s a lot of putting the kids to bed on your own and going to bed yourself while your partner sits at the table and writes. You know those nights. You dread them.
You dread even more the after-school time. It robs you of your precious time together, of which you get so little. You know faculty meetings happen on a certain day, and you hate them, because they mean your partner will battle terrible rush-hour traffic to get home, and they’ll return wrung-out and exhausted, ready to bitch about who talked for how long and how it should have all gone out in an email, anyway. Or there are back-to-school nights, sometimes demoralizing times when no one shows and they have to hang out at school anyway, waiting for parents who rarely show.
That’s hours when you’re home alone with rioting kids asking for their mommy or daddy while they push papers and wish more people cared to show up for their kids’ education. They’ll come home sad when you’re exhausted and you will have to pick up the pieces.
You know your partner probably works through part of June and part of August, then has to do professional development, or take online classes, or otherwise work their way up the educational ladder to make a little more money to supplement their otherwise low pay. Or they have to take another job, because their district doesn’t offer year-round pay. Or you have to take another job in the summer when they can stay home with the kids.
Because being a teacher’s spouse usually means scrambling for money. You see the statistics: You know what teachers earn. It’s hard to make it on one salary, and that usually means working two jobs. Which comes with all the attendant issues of a two-income family: the rushing, the who’s-going-to-cook-dinner, the exhaustion, the neglect of certain household chores that leaves the house destroyed. The knowing you’ll never have another kid because you can’t afford the daycare.
It’s hard. Even if you love what you do, being a working mom sucks some days. But so does being a stay-at-home mom on a teacher’s salary in most states. Your only retirement plans are the ones the state provides, because saving money is a joke. You’re generally a paycheck-to-paycheck household. God forbid the car breaks down.
But being a teacher’s spouse also means sharing the triumphs, too. It means being happy for that kid you never met, never will meet, who got that little victory today, who sat down and did his work without complaining. It means being happy that another kid came out to his or her parents, or got into a good college.
But most of all, when you’re a teacher’s spouse, you’re proud. It means being proud your partner taught a good lesson or had a good day or even copped a great line from your favorite TV show to use on some unruly kids. It means being proud your partner goes into battle every single day and asks for so little in return. You are proud, beyond proud, of their selflessness and courage. You know you couldn’t do their job. You know it in your bones. You’re amazed at what they accomplish, at their patience and their kindness and their strength.
You brag to people every chance you get: my partner teaches at so-and-so. Like he or she is some kind of celebrity, and depending on the kind of town you live in, chances are, they might be. You’re proud of the job they do, the hard, hard, thankless job, the one our politicians try to make harder. You’re proud of them and their colleagues and their administrators. You’re sort of jealous you don’t get to know these amazing people better, in fact.
You have school spirit. You go to the homecoming games and you cheer, and you glow when you’re introduced as your partner’s spouse. Yes. You’re with this rock star. Because no matter what else your partner is, no matter what else their job puts your through, they’re a star. They’re amazing They’re the soldier in the trenches, the infantry on the front line. They’re the great hope of America. You know this.
And when you think too hard about it, you can’t decide if you want to burst into tears at the heaviness of it or burst into a beaming smile of pride.