This August will mark the third summer I did not go back to prepare my classroom. This summer will mark the point I have been out of education as long as I had “technically” been in it. But I don’t say this with a heavy heart, but rather with a sense of relief.
Ten years ago, I began my freshman year of college with the hope that, after four years, I would become a teacher. For anyone who has not studied in the education field, it isn’t easy. It’s like rolling a rudimentary psychology degree with your chosen area of study (for me, English) and spiked with a lot of field work, intense classes, and demanding homework. At my college, there was no guarantee those pursuing degrees in the education field would satisfy all of the requirements in four years—I am pretty stubborn though, so I took full course loads between spring and fall semesters, having no sort of social life during the summers.
My last semester was the student teaching semester. In order to pay for my education, I worked full time while I student-taught full time. I barely slept for five months.
After working my tail off, I received my diploma and teaching certificate. I was certified to teach in my state. I began substitute teaching while I searched for a job. Whereas I didn’t expect to get a job immediately post-graduation, I did expect to get a job sooner than I did. My mentor teacher left glowing reviews, and my teaching experience went well. The principals with whom I worked told me I did well.
Two school districts with which I worked intensely even had job openings. I applied, and those schools did not even grant me an interview. One school already had a person in mind for the job they advertised (the principal’s wife), and another was not interested in me because I could not coach football.
I applied to one school, and I received the letter that the school had chosen another candidate the same day I had my interview. For those of you doing the math, that meant they made the decision before they even spoke to me. My denial letter beat me home. I had placed applications for no less than 200 positions teaching statewide—and that is not an exaggeration. I was interviewed at about two dozen schools. Most of the time, they would call, email, or at least send a letter after the interview. Sometimes, they wouldn’t give any feedback at all.
Still, I persisted. The first school a couple years later had an opening for an English teacher. This gave me hope. I applied and got that job—two and a half years post-graduation.
Already, my journey had felt so long. I fought for all of the interviews I received. I fought for feedback. I battled for that job offer.
Once in the school, finally seeing this goal for which I had so doggedly fought for six years come to fruition was amazing. And in a lot of respects, teaching was amazing. But in more respects, it was killing me. I hadn’t realized it, but the long and hard process had already worn me down a little.
The district in which I taught was small. In a high school of less than 800 students I taught two grade levels, which meant I taught at minimum 120 children per year. 120 names is a lot to memorize in one year, but it can be done. In one of my classes my first year, I had students from five different school board members in a single class—that is a lot of pressure.
My school district was also severely impoverished, very diverse, and boasted a variety of other challenges. My students were lovely, and didn’t let any setbacks keep them from success. Like all kids, there were some turds and there were some high achievers. There were some that didn’t believe in themselves and there were some that would be capable of greatness once they gained a little confidence.
For three years I taught in that school district. It was tough. Between school board members expecting failure, principals who were not supportive in both disciplinary and parental issues, compounded with increased state mandate after increased state mandate, after expectations to do tons of work outside the classroom with extracurricular activities, and after new and intense criteria were introduced, I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. I finally decided I was done on the very last day of school. It was a teacher’s institute day, and some of the teachers had called an impromptu meeting addressing how we collectively handle discipline. It was clear five minutes into the meeting that I, along with several other teachers, was being targeted. I. Was. Done. I loved my students, and I loved some of the people I worked with, but I didn’t love it enough to put myself through the insurmountable stress I had experienced to date. I had a family to care for. Putting in a minimum of 60 hours a week at a job that was draining my soul was not worth it anymore.
For any student reading this, please understand: you are not what is driving your teachers to quit. Adults are. The loud, power-hungry, rule-makers are burning out the profession. Schools with misaligned priorities who like to follow the path of least resistance.
The teachers I know who have retired have told me I made the correct decision. Long-timers in education have said they have not seen conditions this bad ever.
Parents, please remember this as you talk to your children’s teachers. Remember this when you vote. We are churning a machine of turnaround teachers, creating inconsistency for our kids. My story isn’t unique. The system badly needs changing, and needs changing quickly.