What They Don’t Know

A Community Poem by ICTE Members at the 2021 Conference

What They Don’t Know

What they don’t know is that my classroom is a delicate ecosystem

A playground, a petri dish, for practice and patience

We try and fail and win and lose a hundred times over in a day

And then we get tomorrow.


What they don’t know is this isn’t a job

It’s my blood, my bones, my brain

Teaching takes passion

And I have to work before I get to work to do this job

This work is hard and no one’s making it any easier.

What they don’t know is that I’ve been teaching for 20 years

Yet this feels like my first

Being a teacher is planning, dreaming, connecting, responding

Laughing, crying and working at all times of the day, the week, the year.

Our capacity, our endurance, our tenacity our collective trauma

Greets us in the eyes of our colleagues and the coffee stains of our mugs

I bring home these struggles and worry about how I can help.

What they don’t understand it the uncertainty we all feel

Voice and choice are real.

I have feelings, too.


What they don’t know is that jeans don’t make me less professional

I never dresscode my students

One student wears the same outfit every day

We have bigger things to worry about.

We wear ourselves thin

Loving them.


What they don’t know is that college didn’t prepare me for this

These laws they’re passing

Are not just shutting out differences of opinion

They’re shutting down my kids.

What they don’t know is that when I get upset with a student

It’s because I want them to be all they can be.

A classroom is more than four walls

A teacher is both an artist and a scientist

I get to learn every day.


What they don’t know is that we’re not in this for ourselves.

Our students tell us their hopes and dreams

They whisper them between the lines of a journal

And pass them, heart on the precipice, into our trust

Teenagers can’t seem to lie on paper.


What they don’t know could fill a blackboard

They are the reason I need sleep

And the very reason I can’t sleep

What they don’t know is that The Great Gatsby is, in fact, great

Even though they fell asleep reading the first chapter

That’s okay, we’ll try again tomorrow.


What they don’t know is that if I hear self-care one more time

I’m going to blow a gasket

To be a wife, mother, teacher, and friend and still true to myself

Requires recharging, but the battery’s dead

I lose myself in my roles and responsibilities

There’s always someone at the door, the end of an email at, the desk in front of me

It’s exhausting to be at everyone’s beck and call; I put myself on hold

This work hurts my heart

It fills it, too.


What they don’t know is the stress of our race against time

I’m trying to fill a myriad of roles

And the mask I wear everyday burns my face

Every time I teach, it’s like stepping into a shark tank:

Teenagers smell fear and I radiate it.

I’m emotionally invested

It’s exhausting and wonderful.


What they don’t know is that our kids are thirsty

We get to fill their cups

We get to fill them until they runneth over.

Let us.


What they don’t know is that I’ve given hundreds of unpaid hours

So that my students get the education they deserve

We love our kids like family

There is so much worth fighting for.


What they don’t know is that no one will ever be as lucky as we are.