Superhero Teachers: Stories of Teachers Overcoming Intense Personal Challenges

Teaching is one of those jobs where you can’t kick back and “take an easy day.”

Regardless of what you have going on outside of school…regardless of if you’re not feeling well…you have a class of little ones who NEED you. They need your attention, your love, your encouragement, your instruction, your support.

Teaching’s hard enough as it is, but when you have other challenges going on outside of school, it becomes all the more difficult.

Normally, my blog posts focus on literacy instruction and teaching strategies. Today’s post is very different.

In today’s post, I’m going to share 2 stories from teachers who faced incredible challenges outside of school.

They struggled to balance school with their personal battles. But they did it. These ladies are so strong, and I’m so grateful that they were willing to share their stories with me and with you.

Story #1:

This story was written by Karen D. In it, she shares how she overcame family addiction and divorce, all while teaching and raising her son. Here’s her story, in her own words:

Divorce is hard. Teaching is hard. Living both simultaneously is a nightmare. Trying to maintain my professional life while going through a very ugly breakup and divorce was extremely difficult.

My ex-husband, who will be named Lee for this blog, became addicted to opiates during our marriage. When our son was 9 months old, I found out about the addiction (which he hid very well) and all of the bad habits that came with it.  Those revelations were the beginning of my change in personality. I began to change from my role of happy mother/wife/teacher to a very stressed, angry and controlling version of myself. I distinctly remember my first incident of controlling behavior in my classroom. I came in from a long weekend and a bulletin board was hung where I hadn’t asked for it to be hung. I was livid, irrationally livid. I just kept saying “who did this?” with an incredulous voice. Another teacher came and took it down quickly to appease me and make me stop. This was just maybe a week after Lee came clean about everything, and I was trying to keep control in one aspect of my life, and it was going to be my classroom.

Slowly, the chaos of his addiction began affecting me, and it slowly bled into dealings with co-workers. At one point, I was asked to chat with my principal. Another teacher on my team had complained extensively about my attitude and frostiness toward the other teachers. I remember bursting into tears and letting it all spill out. This was the day before Lee was heading to a treatment center. He had been caught stealing meds from customers while on the job and was being charged with theft. Coming clean to my principal allowed me some grace in dealing with this co-worker. She stood by me in our meeting, and I apologized to my co-worker while still giving no more details outside of having some “personal struggles.” I was not ready to share what was really going on. Throughout his time in treatment, I continued about my business.  I trained a new teacher and helped her set up her classroom while also helping a long-term sub manage her assignment. I had two different lives happening, and I was determined to keep them separate after the meeting with my principal and co-worker.

I was only able to keep this juggling act up for so long. As Lee’s addiction worsened, I resorted to hiding cash and credit cards in my desk. I had to call in because Lee wrote a bad check for daycare, and I was turned away at the door. I had to call in when his car was repossessed from lack of payment. It was never ending; seeing notices of him getting into my bank account to send himself a check, getting overdraft charges and calls from my credit card companies because he had maxed them out when I thought I had hidden the card well enough. He was arrested for multiple speeding tickets and was blowing up my phone during a parent meeting to bail him out. I somehow stayed the course while students were in my room. During this time I was chosen as Teacher of the Year. I detached as soon as those kids were in my care, and I could focus on them and them only, and shut out the chaos. I think back and don’t know how I managed to do it.

I finally had two major breakthroughs; I filed for divorce and came clean to my team, all in the same week. I was tired of the chaos and of lying to people. Some had noticed my wedding ring was off, and all I did was stop the gossip. This was when things began to change. Little treats would show up on my desk overnight along with notes of support. For my birthday I was given a very nice movie gift card to give me something to do for myself. My demeanor improved too; I was happier and more relaxed. Through it all I had always kept my cool with the students; working with them was its own type of therapy. Unfortunately, my fellow teachers felt the brunt of all my emotions.

It’s crazy to reflect back on all of this. There was so much that happened. I think I tried to forget about all of it. I never lost my passion for teaching, and it drove me to focus so much on work. Teaching was an escape; confiding in my co-workers made the pain bearable. Teaching kept me afloat during this tumultuous time in my life.

I’m so moved by Karen’s story. Isn’t her strength incredible??

Story #2:

This story is written by Pamela G. It’s her story about battling cancer—which she’s still in the midst of. I think we can all learn from her comments about priorities and keeping challenges in perspective. Here’s her story, in her own words.

I’ve been a teacher for 19 years. During that time I have put my heart and soul into my job. It has been my everything! I have worked hours creating, making, and developing things for my students in my classroom. I’ve taught kindergarten and first grade.  I’ve been in charge of committees, programs, training, PLC’s, grade level events—you name it, and I’ve probably done it. There have been so many opportunities and challenges in the past 19 years, but nothing compares with the news I received on December 27, 2017. I was told I had colorectal cancer. Needless to say, my world changed in an instant. I was referred to an oncologist, had a port surgically implanted, and began the process of chemotherapy within 2 weeks. I hadn’t even processed all this information. I had been dealing with cancer in my family for a long time, so it wasn’t unfamiliar water. My mom has a mutated form of ovarian cancer and has been fighting for over 15 years. So I had some knowledge, but nothing prepared me for the journey that lay ahead. I continued to work, only taking time off for chemo and then carrying the 48 hours of medication with me to school. I worked as much as I could. By March I had a reaction to the medication, so chemo was halted. Things were going well until I developed anemia and ended up in the ER. I was taken in for a procedure and had stints placed in my large intestine. Eventually, I ended up back in the ER and this time in surgery. I had a hole in my abdomen to clean my large intestines out so I could have surgery on the tumor. Naturally, my time at work was done for last of the school year.

I was slated for surgery in May. The tumor was removed, but within a week I was very sick. My blood pressure sky rocketed; my JP tubes were contaminated. I ended up back in surgery and had an illeostomy. At the same time I developed MRSA and was very sick. I was in and out of ICU for three weeks. I kept thinking I would return to work. I eventually ended up leaving the hospital six weeks later. I had lost 75 pounds and was very weak. During the summer I did PT and worked at home to regain my strength. I went back into surgery in August to reverse the illeostomy. Things went so much better! I was able to return to work at the end of August, but not without some challenges. I had no stamina. I couldn’t lift things or climb on a ladder. Setting up my classroom was a challenge, because I never packed it up. The entire staff boxed up my room. So I was cleaning and setting up at the same time. When I started on my closet I saw my blue bag. I had left it there, thinking I would be back the next Monday for it. There were still papers in it. It was kind of creepy. But I got my room set up and began the school year.

In this brief period I learned so much about myself and being an educator. First, this is my career and I love it, but I put it ahead of my family. No more! My family is way more important, and I cherish the time I spend with them. Second, there will always be challenges in teaching. They are unavoidable. But they aren’t the end of the world. At one point in the hospital I was on death’s doorstep, so the challenges of teaching are nothing compared to fighting for your life! Third, always treat everyone with kindness. I tend to be so type A I forget about the importance of building those solid relationships with people. This is what is most important. Please understand that in no way am I saying that teaching isn’t the best and toughest job in the world. It’s all about perspective. And mine has shifted 360 degrees!!

While times may be tough and my battle with cancer continues, I still know within my heart that everyday I wake up I am blessed! I am blessed with the people I love, my fur babies, the children I am fortunate enough to be teaching, and the connections I make with others. None of us knows what lies in our future, but what we do know is how we can embrace the challenges and enjoy those blissful moments of life.

I’m so grateful that Pamela was willing to share her story! We’re all pulling for you, Pamela!!

Pamela also mentioned that if you’re going through something like this right now, she’s happy to chat. Contact me (Alison) via email if you’d like to get in touch with her.

So many thanks to these strong ladies for sharing their stories with us. If you’re going through something difficult of your own, I hope these stories resonated with you.

If you have a teacher friend who’s struggling, feel free to share this post with them. Here’s an image you can pin:

Teaching's hard enough as it is, but when you have other challenges going on outside of school, it becomes all the more difficult. In this blog post, teachers share their stories of intense personal challenges they faced and overcame while teaching at the same time.
Photo Credits: Dean Drobot, Shutterstock