The word “family” can be a heavy word. A student with “family problems” can be dealing with an argument with a sibling, abuse, homelessness, or pending deportation. As a single teacher living at a safe distance from my own family, I find that my colleagues have become my family in a way that seems to exist only in communities of workers who are in service industries—firemen, police officers, nurses, etc. My biological family in many ways understands my current life less than my adopted, professional family. Eleven years after I began teaching, my parents still question my decision to teach high school (“Wouldn’t you rather teach little kids?”) and do not understand what I deal with on a daily basis. In that respect, I find part of the necessary safety net for human existence in the virtual arms of my colleagues.
I’ve cried tears of sadness and pain over the miscarriages, divorces, and pending departures of my colleagues. I’ve cried tears of laughter at the jokes and teasing that develop out of shared, emotional experiences.