The teacher’s child sits alone, doodling on a scrap of paper with worn crayons and pens found in couch cushions. “Look at my drawing, Mommy,” he says, proudly thrusting his sketch between her and the stack of papers on her lap. “It’s you.”
“That’s great,” the teacher praises, briefly glancing up from her task, just as briefly returning her eyes to the collection of work before her.
“See how I made the eyes blue? That’s just like your eyes,” the teacher’s child explains.
“I see,” the teacher mutters, never averting her gaze from the note she is furiously scrawling on one of the papers. “Why don’t you go make some more drawings and hang them in your room?”
The teacher’s child lingers a bit longer, contemplating his sketch. “And the hair is blonde, too. Your hair is also blonde, Mommy,” the teacher’s child asserts.
“Yep, it is. C’mon now, buddy. Mommy’s got these papers to grade, and they have to be done by tomorrow. I’ll come up and look at all your drawings when I’m finished,” the teacher promises.
The teacher’s child stays a beat before retreating to his solitude, shoulders slumped and eyes glanced downward.
The teacher’s child draws and waits. He draws and waits some more. Occasionally, he walks back into the room where the teacher has shifted her focus from the stack of papers to her laptop. The teacher’s child mutters something in her direction, but the teacher doesn’t hear over the whir of her fingers on the keyboard. The teacher’s child hesitates, thinking maybe she will respond. The teacher never does.
Hours later, the teacher’s child again approaches the teacher, beckoning her to his room. “I’ve got all my drawings hung up, Mommy,” the teacher’s child announces. “Want to come see them?”
“In just a minute, buddy,” the teacher responds. “I’ve got to finish up this email to a parent.”
“But it’ll only take a minute,” the teacher’s child says.
“I understand that, buddy.” The teacher sounds annoyed now. “I really have to get this email sent before I can do anything, OK? Do you understand?” the teacher asks.
“OK,” the teacher’s child murmurs as he heads toward his room.
The teacher’s child is no stranger to rejection and impatience. For the teacher, there is always an assignment to grade, an email to send, a lesson to plan, or a parent to call. Even when the teacher is home, the teacher is working, busily tackling responsibilities she has no time to do during the school day. For the teacher’s child, there is always a reason he must wait for the teacher’s attention. There is always an incident at school that makes him the brunt of the teacher’s frustrations. The teacher’s child is used to being at the mercy of 150 strangers and their children.
Sometimes, when the teacher leaves early in the morning for a meeting or stays late into the night for a conference, the teacher’s child imagines the Very Important Work the teacher does. She must be rich, the teacher’s child concludes. Very Important Work requires time and costs money, after all.
Other times, when the teacher has locked herself in the den or headed off to the coffee shop to complete work on the weekends, the teacher’s child pretends to be a student in the teacher’s class. The teacher’s child envisions sitting in a desk in the teacher’s classroom, completing assignments and collecting the teacher’s praises. The teacher’s child admires the teacher’s students — envies the time the teacher devotes to them.
Still other times, the teacher’s child pretends to be the teacher himself. The teacher’s child deliberately arranges his stuffed animals and action figures around his bedroom. Occasionally, the teacher’s child pretends the stuffed animals and action figures are his students. He showers them with accolades and affections, jumping at their requests for help and fawning over their creations. Now and then, the teacher’s child pretends the stuffed animals and action figures are his family members. He positions himself on his bed, piles of imaginary paper strewn around his person. Sporadically, the teacher’s child looks up from his endeavor, squints at his stuffed animals and action figures, and mumbles a “Just a minute” or an “After I’m finished with this paperwork” before returning his attention back to the fictional assignments flung about his bed.
Once in a while, the teacher’s child sneaks out of his room late at night to see what the teacher is doing. Almost always, the teacher has her head buried in an assortment of papers or fixated in the direction of the computer screen. For an instant, the teacher’s child debates halting the teacher’s work and stealing a moment of her time. Instead, the teacher’s child heads back to his room. He has learned not to interrupt the teacher when she’s working.
The teacher’s child pictures himself as a grown up, sitting at a future kitchen table, poring over assignments and lessons and emails while his children play, lonely in the other room. He decides Very Important Work is worth such sacrifices. Besides, he’s always wanted to be rich. And anyone who spends so much time doing Very Important Work must be rich, the teacher’s child resolves.
What the teacher’s child doesn’t know is that while the teacher may be rich in traditionally unrecognized ways, that wealth comes at a pretty hefty price. Then again, the teacher’s child does know a little something about that.