Joan Gray: Why My Students Can’t Wait For Me To Sleep Until Noon

Why My Students Can’t Wait For Me To Sleep In Until Noon

5:30 a.m. on a Monday – I am sitting on my couch, finishing my last few drops of my hazelnut coffee. I am drowning in my sleepy haziness and considering dropping my head right down on the couch to fall soundly back asleep. I am also questioning my ability to choose career paths. Finally, I am assuring myself that the sleepiness will pass and that my kids need me.

This is my reoccurring Monday morning routine.

Waking up at 5:15 every day is difficult, I don’t think anyone you talk to would deny that claim. However, my students can’t wait for me to sleep in until noon if they want to attend college – not in this climate.

I teach 9th grade English at an inner city charter school in Houston. And one of our missions is that every single student that enters our halls will have an equal opportunity to attend college. I believe that the students that are in high school or even elementary right now are entering into some of the toughest times our country has seen in quite some time.

While I don’t want to wake up at 5 every day, I have to and the more I see why I have to, I end up needing to. The amazing and kind faces that greet me every day remind me that waking up at 5 is necessary to achieve the goals I set out for – to improve lives. Not only that, but my students also wake up around 5. At a young age, they have learned the importance of using every hour of the day to their benefit.

And I think this is a lifelong testament because this is not the first time in my life that I have woken up at 5. My first year of college I played softball and woke up at 5:35 every morning for morning workouts. Some nights, I slept with my shoes on and some mornings I would be sprinting to the gym to make it on time. But, that was the year that I realized that I had to work hard if I wanted to be anyone at all and to do that I had to lose sleep, I might have had to skip breakfast, drink a lot of coffee, and mess up, a lot, along the way. It was the hardest year of my entire life but that was also the year that my softball team made it to the national championships. When we looked back at all of the struggles and the sleeping-in-shoes lifestyle, it was all worth it.

And now, here I am, 4 years later and still living to the testament: that sometimes you are going to have to lose sleep to achieve your dreams.

My students aren’t going to wait for me to sleep in a little, have a few cups of coffee, and then decide to show up and teach them. They need me, and not just me, all of the young 20-somethings that are waking UpByFive every single day to chase their dreams. They need us to show them that equity is possible, no matter who you are or what dreams you have. Whether those dreams be money, education, love, or improving lives, we have to fight through the somnolence that comes with waking UpByFive.

By 7th period, I feel the dragging lull of sleepiness kick in as my last class stumbles through the door. I realize that I have to teach them for two more hours as I see the kid in the back row falling asleep during independent reading time. I so badly want to say, you know what, I feel you bud because I feel it too. But just like my kids need me, I need them to stick with me, wake upbyfive, and try to cram as much knowledge into their lovely minds if they want to achieve whatever dream they want. So I have to tap him on the shoulder and let him know that sometimes we are going to be tired but someday we will look back and realize that the loss of sleep actually helped us be where we are today.

While I am not here to humble myself or get good karma, I genuinely believe that the future leaders need our help, our protection, and our encouragement. All of this starts when I decide at 5:30 that I am going to walk out that door every day.