This Year is Better, Why Aren’t I?

Thomas Rademacher
3 min readOct 1, 2021

The 8th graders in front of me, the names I’m trying desperately to attach to a few inches of visible face, have not opened lockers since the winter of their 6th grade year.

On day one, I looked out at those faces, not knowing them at all, not knowing what they’d need from me this year, not knowing if I’d be able to do this. We all felt new here.

It was the memory of teaching that brought me back this year, the hope that we could recapture even most of what made it so wonderful before, even when it was already too hard.

I spent the summer building up some shielding against the despair and disappointment of last year. So far, it’s holding, but I don’t know how sturdy it really is.

I’m not even sure, not really, why it’s so hard. In every way that matters to me, this year is better than last. In most ways that matter, I’m not better.

Maybe the dissonance is tearing us slowly and roughly in half. Maybe.

We’ve begun building a post-covid school and almost 2,000 people died yesterday.

George Floyd’s birthday is October 14th and half the country thinks that talking about race is the real racism.

We’re told to stay home if we’re sick and we know there are no subs.

We have these great times, great classes, great days with these kids and we still go home with defeat tearing against our muscles. It’s like it all just takes more this year, takes more from us this year.

And then there’s still seeing the two girls giggling in the back with a phone, and finding they had it out to take a picture of a poem they both liked.

There’s the kid that hardly ever talks but today said goodbye.

There’s the friends who make their own earrings, and come every day with something new: spools of thread, erasers, nutrition labels, doll legs.

There’s the penises drawn on the walls of the boys bathroom that make me question our teaching of both anatomy and art.

There’s the kid at the end of class who stick around to say thanks, or show you their origami, or the art they’ve been doing, or the dog they saw yesterday or to say that today has been hard and they just needed to say that.

There’s the loss of patience, the apology, the growing trust, the disappointment, the inspiration.

There are so many pieces that remind me of the job I used to have, used to love. Enough pieces, maybe. Maybe.

On my worst day this week, I let my classes know that I was overwhelmed, exhausted, anxious, that I knew it was a really hard time to be a student but it was also a hard time to be a teacher. I let them know I was hurting about it. I won’t lie to them. I can’t.

So I also let them know that they are the reason I stay, the reason I’ll keep coming back, the reason all of this stays worth it.

Thomas Rademacher

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ and ‘Raising Ollie’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything.