“What They Don’t Tell You Before Becoming a Teacher” – by Alex Cox

March 11, 2022

This poem is a collaboration with my fellow teachers. We all share a passion for educating young people, and we also care deeply for our students. I asked teachers to send me something they were not told by their formal education professors about teaching. Their responses are in quotations. 

What they don’t tell you

before becoming a teacher

is that four years of undergrad

and a master’s degree amount to exactly 

that: two pieces of paper with 

your full name and a new title. 

Three years’ pay won’t cover the loan you took out

to enrich the minds of our youth. 

There are no upper-level classes

to prepare you for the unimaginable damage

that has been wrecked upon 

some of their lives–

damage you will try to undo

in one year’s time. 

No amount of yoga or therapy will erase

the images you will have etched in your mind. 

“They don’t tell us that even when the 

day is done and we go home, 

the job is not over.”

“Compartmentalization 101 should be

the first class you take. 

Otherwise, 

wine might end up being your 

counselor.”

“Somehow a teacher is 

responsible for fixing

every piece of baggage a 

student carries, and— 

if not—

if that baggage somehow

keeps a student from 

learning, 

it is

your

fault, 

too.”

“I didn’t know

there would be 

so many gaps

all

the

time. 

We should probably all get 

social work minors.”

“They don’t tell you that sometimes

I was going to have to become 

a parent

and raise

these kids. 

I am not Jesus. I’m not always here

to save the one, but the many.

Nor did they tell me that I was going

to have to risk

my life

for them.” 

And I would. 

I would lay down 

my life

if it meant stepping in front of a 

bullet from a kid

so far gone from reality

because of everyone 

who failed them

before I even had a chance 

to help.

They don’t tell you 

“That you carry the hearts and hopes

of humanity 

in yourself

everywhere you go.

Everywhere you look, you

see people who are on a 

journey–and how can you help them?”

You see in them a hope

for a future

despite the naysayers

of this empowering generation. 

You will learn to fight for them–

for their public education

that so many 

know

nothing 

about 

but still tell you how to do your job from 

their armchairs.

They don’t tell you 

that your heart will 

forever be a collage 

of thousands of faces

that will leave you, 

possibly forget you. 

But you

will

never 

forget

them.


Alex is a reader, teacher, and writer balancing life with autoimmune diseases while carving out spaces for creativity. She lives in Paris, Tennessee, with her husband and two sons. Alex teaches 9th grade English and Creative Writing. She is an Enneagram 3 who loves to put aside her to-do lists to read in her comfy chair.

You can find Alex on Instagram at @megahast.

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  1. Christina Lewis says:

    All of that

  2. Natalie says:

    That touched home base.

  3. Lisa Wyatt says:

    These words tugged at my heart and conscience. ♥️

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