As I mentioned earlier, the afternoon workshop I attended last week at the Cook school went to see the movie Freedom Writers one afternoon. The film is based on a true story.

In a nutshell: a young idealistic first-year teacher from a privileged background receives the cold smack of reality when she meets her Freshman English classes in Long Beach, California. The students have no interest in English literature, nor in being in school. Most of them have bigger problems. The community is divided into warring factions of black, Latino, and Cambodian, with drug use and gang violence common. Many families are broken. But, the teacher perseveres, eventually reaching her students when she has them start writing about their own lives in journals. She succeeds in creating a family, a safe and caring community, within her classroom. The students learn and grow as persons. (cont. below)

But, to achieve her goal of being a good teacher and reaching these students she makes sacrifices. She begins to work evenings, and then weekends, at part-time jobs to be able to buy books for her classes. She spends time after-school with her students. Saturdays she takes them to museums. She invests so much of herself into her students that she has no time for herself.

And she has no time for her husband. Initially supportive of her, he begins to feel neglected. Ultimately he leaves her, and they divorce. The irony here is that in order to create the learning and caring family in her classroom she destroys her own family life.

As a Christian, I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, I am glad to see people care enough to give of themselves to help others. As a former classroom teacher in middle school and high school, I empathize with and understand her desire to reach her students. But, as a Christian I also must understand her foremost human loyalty to belong to her husband, the one to whom she made a promise, a covenant for life.

When I raised this issue in the workshop, most of the other participants seemed to identify with the woman teacher, and believed that the husband had his own "issues." Maybe he did. But, he was neglected emotionally and sexually. She had no time or energy for him. My own reading of this movie is that she did not establish appropriate limits to her commitment to her students that would have allowed her to keep her commitment to him. None of us are infinite in time or energy. We have decisions to make. And marriage should not be sacrificed.

In the movie the teacher expected her husband to be supportive of her. In a frank conversation he confessed his inability to "be her wife." An insightful bit of dialogue. We know that some professions are very demanding of time and energy: medicine, the military, law enforcement, to name three. Traditionally these were done by men, and the wives supported them, knowing that marriage to a man doing one of these jobs would mean sacrifices. Can we reverse that? Can a husband indeed 'be a wife' to a woman whose job devours her? I'm not sure.