My roommate and I have a saying we call "going down the rabbit hole." For the most part, it refers to obsessive Googling of an often random subject that occasionally leads to momentarily increased anxiety over something inane and usually entirely out of our control. For me, on Saturday night, it was chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That's right. On a Saturday night in my prime years, I was sitting at the kitchen table reading as much as I could about brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head, usually found in professional football players.
That morning I had gone to see the new Will Smith movie "Concussion" about the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the NFL's reaction to the news. But, to be honest, the subject had been weighing on my mind since long before the movies. You see, I teach high school and some of my students play football and some of those athletes get injured and some of those injuries are head injuries. The first time you go to your school's Friday night game and your students get excited to see you there, it's fun and exciting; the first time you see one of your students get knocked down and not get back up right away, it's not.
So on Saturday night the thoughts of "Concussion" and of my football players sent me down the rabbit hole. In the midst of my reading on Mike Webster and Bennet Omalu and Roger Goodell, I would sometimes stop to pop out from behind my computer screen and tell my roommate some horrifying story about an NFL player who had tragically died after a career full of hard hits to the head or to worry aloud about my students. Finally, I said "This stuff scares me and I don't even know what to do about it. I know it's only high school football, but I'm worried about my babies. What am I supposed to do?"
"Teach them math," my roommate replied. And that't just it, isn't it? It's one of the hardest and most important lessons for teachers to learn, especially teachers in high poverty areas like the one I teach in. My students are facing a lot and it's hard not to worry about them, but at the end of the day all I can really do is my job. Everything else is out of my control, but for the 58 minutes they're in my classroom every day there are three things I can do to help them: Love them, support them, and teach them math. If I do that, I've done my job and if I want to keep doing my job and doing it well for years to come I have to be able to do that and then come home and let go at the end of the day.
There are some things in life and in teaching that you can't control and as easy as it is to say that and believe that, it's another thing to live it. It's a skill I'm still learning and one I'll probably be learning for a long time, but it's a skill that I have to grasp. There really isn't much I can do to keep my students safe and happy and secure on the football field or at home or on the bus or wherever else they may go outside of school hours, but, this semester, when I worry about those hours that they aren't with me and what I can do about it, I'm going to commit more often to do just what I'm supposed to do and teach them math.