Why I almost quit teaching...

This post has been heavy on my heart for some time; been writing itself in my head, and finally now, I'm getting pen to paper {or rather fingers to the keyboard, if you will!} to share it.  It's a long one, so pull up a chair, couch, whatever :)

But before I share, let me first clarify a few things.  The following are my opinions and my opinions only.  They do not reflect the district or the school that I work in, as I work with some fantastic teachers, of whom I would entrust my own child!!

I, in no way, want to diminish any one else's profession and am fully aware that each and every job has it's own stressors and every job holds a certain importance in the world, to the person who holds the position, to the family that job provides for, etc.

And when I speak of society, I am referring in general to modern day America and the taxpayers, parents, and students who contribute to public education.  Obviously, not everyone holds the same opinions on public education, teachers, schools, etc.  I am just speaking of society in general.  And am in no way arguing public v. private school.  Just my thoughts on teaching.

Ok, now with all of that out of the way, I want to tell you why I almost quit teaching...

I went into teaching because I love kids and I love seeing them learn!

 I first figured this out in high school when I was an after school counselor at a local YMCA here in Charlotte.  I loved that job and I loved those kids!  I built such rapport with my students and they trusted me.  I was able to teach them things!  Some school stuff, some stuff about life, some stuff about God.  I loved seeing them grow and gain knowledge.  I was a teacher already and I didn't even know.

One of my favorite quotes is "The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn." spoken by John Lubbock.

Another is "Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by it's ability to climb a tree, it'll spend it's whole life believing that it is stupid." from the mouth of Albert Einstein.

These quotes speak volumes as  to why I went into education and the latter, as to why I went into specifically special education.  I whole heartedly believe that every student can learn!  It may not be at the same pace or to the same level.  But every student can learn!

So there lies the great challenge for teachers.  We have students from all walks of life stride into our classrooms...some enter from affluent families who've been read to since they were in the womb and sitting right next to them, quite possibly, is the child who's lived in poverty their whole life and has seen and experienced things no child should be exposed to.

Teachers have students walk into their classroom reading 3 grade levels below grade level and lacking necessary foundational skills to build upon in order to continue with further math instruction, as well as students who are performing above grade level and need to be challenged so they don't sit with idle hands.

Part of me really believes that doctors, nurses, and teachers have the hardest professions in the world!  Again, not diminishing anyone else's job, but doctors, nurses, and teachers - we're all given these lives that we're in charge of.  Teachers are expected to mold these lives into valuable, productive, contributing members of society, to nurture them into adults with a wish to continue learning, and sometimes - like a doctor or a nurse - teachers can be their life saver.

This is a huge task.

And it's even more of a huge task today than in the past as teachers are no longer just responsible for teaching the 3 Rs - reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic.  Teachers today do not just teach academics.

Teachers are now responsible for teaching behavioral and social skills {and breaking up fist fights}, how to treat and speak to peers and adults {and no, its not ok to call your teacher a b*tch under your breath}, critical thinking and problem solving skills {and how to walk away from that kid that was making fun of you}, and crucial life skills that often are no longer taught at home {and that in life and school there are consequences for your actions}.

All the while with looming standardized test scores, student growth, and budget cuts breathing down our back.

Students have absent parents, parents who dropped out of school, are illiterate or speak another language.  Parents who do not value education because the education system failed them.

And I don't mean to place blame on parents.  Some parents aren't home because they're working two jobs to support their family or they can't come to school meetings and functions because they don't have a car.  I'm not trying to place blame.

But it's hard to explain the magnitude of the job that teachers are entrusted with.  Teachers, much like myself, graduate from college enthusiastic and think they're ready for the classroom, only to find their classroom managements skills are sub-par and they didn't have the training they needed, or the resources, or the curriculum knowledge, etc.

So teachers leave.  

According to this article {which I really enjoyed reading!  If you have 20 minutes give it a read.}, 30% of new teachers leave the profession after 3 short years.  More than 45% leave after just 5 years.  And here's something shocking, according to the article, "less than 20% of teachers who change schools or leave the profession cite salary as their primary job complaint."

You see salary isn't the problem {well it is, but it's really a whole different topic completely}, the problem is it takes a village to raise a child, and society is leaving it solely up to the teachers.

Raising a child is a monumental job and there is not enough free time in the day for me to raise my students!  I fight every single day of the school year to find a balance; balance between getting things accomplished after school when the students are gone and I'm no longer teaching {ie. lesson planning, collaborating with my co-teachers, staff meetings, parent meetings, paperwork, etc} and having a life for myself - working out, cooking dinner, seeing friends, playing with my fur babies, spending time with my husband.

I could easily spend 11 1/2 hour days in my school building if I let myself - 7am to 630pm when the custodians lock up.  And many days when I leave at 430 or 5 I end up feeling guilty because there is more I could be doing.

And all of this nearly defeated me.  The weight of my job, the things that are out of control in the lives of my students that I can't change, the lack of time to accomplish what I needed to get done {both professionally and personally}, the expectations.  It wore at me and I almost became part of that statistic above.

This past spring I had an opportunity presented to me which I very seriously considered taking.  It would have been a complete career change and meant more money eventually.  I could potentially make my own schedule, work with adults, take lunch breaks, pee when I wanted.

But then, I'd just be another statistic.  I'd be letting society win and tell me that I'm not enough to change the system.  And while that's probably true, I'm not enough to change the system, I am enough to change the lives of my students for the 7 hours I have them each day.

I can't change their home life, their parents, their hardships.  But I can teach them and empower them each day when they're at school.  It sounds cheesy, and maybe it is.

I am by no means 'teacher of the year', I'm still learning and growing for sure.  But I am a good teacher with good intent and that is what my profession needs.  The education needs good teachers who are willing to stick it out and fight for their kids, for the 8 - 10 hours a day they're at work, for the betterment of society.

So I'm not quitting teaching.

I can almost certainly say I won't last 30 years in this profession.  My dream has always been to be home with babies one day, but from now until Brandon and I start a family and, Lord willing, our finances allow me to stay home, I will keep teaching.  I believe it's where my talents lie and I should use them to their full potential.

Maybe I'll return to teaching one day after babies, maybe I'll surprise myself and never quit teaching.  I really don't know.  But I won't become a damaging statistic and just walk away.  Not today.


Rachel said...

Beautiful post my friend! You say it all so well!

Annie said...

You go girl. I've always thought being a teacher is one of the hardest jobs EVER. More power to you for sticking it out.

My Mom and SIL were teachers so I grew up with my Mom grading papers all night and worrying about her children. I think some of her greatest satisfaction after 30 years being a teacher is seeing her kids that have grown up to be bright and accomplished adults. They all still remember her.

Dee Stephens said...

Teachers do have the hardest jobs and aren't compensated for it. I spent a very short time in a 'teaching type' role(after school care during college), and I knew it wasn't for me.
I think it's great that you have a passion and are willing to stick with it!

Jen said...

Enjoyed this! Reading it during lunch at school ( we have a planning day ). LOVE my job but wishing I was able to be home with my little lady!

Casey said...

I totally agree with all of what you said. I am about to start my 6th year and it gets harder and harder every year to go back, because of everything other than the kids (like this year i just found out that I am teaching 80 first graders reading in only 40 min. a day?????) It can be so frustrating!

Mindy said...

THANK YOU for writing this!!! I (and I'm sure every other teacher out there) feel your pain!!

Anonymous said...

I am so with you! Next week, I'll begin my 6th year teaching and every single May I think, "This is my last year." But, so far, I can't make myself be a statistic either. Our students need passionate and caring teachers. Thank you for sticking it out!

Annie said...

I love this! Both my parents are educators (my dad's a principal and my mom's a teacher) so I grew up seeing a lot of this firsthand.

I almost went into teaching myself and didn't because it wasn't my wholehearted passion and I felt the students I would have deserved more from me than that. I worked as a teacher in a learning center for about five years, though, and I loved watching the kids learn. There were some with some of the most heartbreaking stories, and other kids who were so defeated, and I remember sitting some of them down and saying, "You CAN do this. You CAN. It might take a lot of work, but it's possible."

It's so encouraging to see that you feel the same, that you're dedicated to bringing the very best to your students for as long as you can. It encourages me as someone who has long been cynical about the state of education and it encourages me as someone who will very likely have kids in the future and very likely putting them in public school.

And I don't think your goals are cheesy at all. In fact, I think having them is what makes the difference between a teacher who accomplishes the checklist of basic tasks throughout the year, and the teacher who makes an immeasurable, empowering impression on her students.

Smiley said...

Dear Michelle, love your blog! Love your heart and intentions. Love that you feel led to tough it out with the kids, the system, and our culture. Being salt and light is tougher than it sounds because some people don't WANT to know better or do better...they like flat, tasteless lives in the darkness. Sometimes it's because that's all they have known...but YOU are showing them there is another choice...it can be better than they currently think. I know so many disenchanted teachers. Hope the system soon recognizes its problems and can make the necessary changes. those statistics were jarring.
Thanks again for being you!! Lurv, Auntie Anne

Samantha said...

You seem to be an excellent teacher, one that truly cares! Just so you know... the kids appreciate even if they don't know it :) .... I'm going into school psychology and have learned that the good teachers seem to leave!