The following blog post, by Cristina Stanojevich, was created in collaboration with TeachPlus.
Teaching is a tireless act of love. Good teachers often pour their hearts into their work. It’s exhausting, and rewarding, but also, at times, painful. The 2018-2019 school year was particularly painful for me. I was teaching 7th grade science—a class where directions like “do NOT drink the hydrochloric acid” need to be frequently, and urgently repeated—and I was mourning the passing of my last grandparent.
I went to high school in Lima, Peru. Every day after school, I would walk to my grandmother’s house to do homework and keep her company—my grandfather had passed away a couple years earlier. She would feed me, and I would sing for her.
In November of 2018, I found out that my 98-year-old grandmother, still in the same little house in Lima, was dying. The doctors weren’t sure if she had a week or a few months to live, so my brothers and I flew down to Peru to be with her. I was lucky to be surrounded by a caring, supportive group of teachers and administrators at my school who helped to make that possible. I stayed for a few days, then came home and returned to work.
In December of 2018 my grandmother turned 99. In April she passed away. Again, the team around me at school rallied, and I was able to fly back to South America to be with my family. Those months between November and April, during which we knew my grandmother was dying, were hard for me, but they were especially challenging for the dedicated individuals taking care of her around the clock—my parents and the team of nurses. At times, my grandmother would become delusional; sometimes it was endearing—hearing violins playing softly nearby or thinking her daughter-in-law was her mother—other times she would become cruel and violent or inconsolably sad. During that time, my parents drew strength from the teachings of a Buddhist author named Joan Halifax. They shared a meditation on Boundless Caring that resonated with me:
May my love for others flow boundlessly.
May the power of loving-kindness sustain me.
May I find the inner resources to truly be able to give.
May I remain in peace and let go of expectation.
May I offer my care and presence unconditionally, knowing that it may be met with gratitude, indifference, anger, or anguish.
May I offer love knowing that I cannot control the course of life, suffering, or death.
May I see my limits compassionately, just as I view the suffering of others.
May I accept things as they are.
Even now, as I read through it, the words hit me in the gut, like a wake-up call or an urgent reminder. As a teacher, this meditation feels like everything that I needed to hear, a validation of my experience. My first reaction was undeniably “this feels like it was written for teachers;” for the days when a student screams at you or mutters insults under their breath (may I offer my care and presence unconditionally, knowing that it may be met with gratitude, indifference, anger, or anguish); for the days when children’s brutal honesty and keen observation skills leave you embarrassed, or the seemingly endless stream of drama and arguing gets in the way of learning (may I remain in peace and let go of expectation); for the days when you feel belittled by a parent, or you’re unable to prevent two students, both of whom you care about, from fighting (may I offer love knowing that I cannot control the course of life, suffering, or death). When I vent to my parents about days like these, my father reminds me to be grateful for the countless opportunities to practice loving-kindness.
That year, I felt challenged by the behavior of two students. They frequently disrupted activities and made cruel comments to their classmates and teachers. Every day, my patience was tested. Near the end of the school year, both of their grandmothers passed away. All of a sudden, the three of us were in the same boat, experiencing similar pain, and I couldn’t stay frustrated with them. I could no longer see their behavior outside of the context of their experiences. I was grateful for the reminder to see past the persona that a student projects in the classroom, to try to understand and honor their past experiences and unique perspectives.
As teachers, our job is to be there for our students, to support them, to be a reliable presence and resource in their journeys, to provide a safe space where they can be themselves, process their emotions, and learn. So, when a student tries my patience, or a day at school leaves me feeling defeated, when being a teacher feels stressful and frustrating, I remind myself to practice boundless caring—for my students and for myself (may we see our limits compassionately, just as we view the suffering of others).