I was drawn to write this because a former colleague of mine, a fellow damn good educator, posted on Facebook the amazing gifts she made for her graduating students. Another colleague commented, “…and that’s why you’re teacher of the year!!” For whatever reason my knee jerk reaction was defensive. “She shouldn’t have to pay a penny to be good at teaching!” And “those have nothing to do with how great of an educator she is!!” But you know what they do represent? How much she loves her students and her job. I instead sent my Texan well wishes and thought, “bless her heart.”
I have been an educator in my soul probably my entire life. While growing up I probably would have just said I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make the world better. I went through phases of wanting to be a marine biologist or a graphic designer, but in my last semester of my English degree, I knew I going to make young scholars into free thinking stewards of the Earth! Somehow through classic literature.
I loved being a teacher. I was the one with the well decorated classroom with themed bulletin boards and a constant collage of well done student work. I spent hours creating my lesson plans, hours grading writing thoroughly with a rubric and feedback, and hours one on one with troubled students who needed someone to give them positivity.
I wouldn’t trade a day of what I gave my students while teaching. However, anyone who has spent a day in the classroom knows that most of being an educator has nothing to do with the lessons or the students.
I was a damn good teacher. That’s not ego, it’s a fact. I was given teacher of the month on multiple occasions. I was promoted after 2 1/2 years to curriculum specialist for our English department. For clarification, many districts call this position a teaching coach or curriculum coach. I worked to the ends of my sanity for my colleagues to improve our curriculum and streamline tasks like data collection and novel check out. I was observing classrooms with enthusiasm and finding meaningful trainings for my department. I was constantly looking for resources for our English Language Learners, which if we’re being transparent, all students are developing academic English. That’s a topic for another day.
The problem with education, is that it’s full of people who are full of a lot of love. You don’t go into teaching for the money, despite the multiple degrees you probably have and the continuous training you acquire, often out of your own pocket. When you love what you do and who you’re teaching like I did, you continuously give. You give time. You give money. You give your love. At the end of the year, after you’ve cleaned out your classroom and turned in your keys, what have you received in return? The answer is little more than personal fulfillment.
After five years in the same district in East Houston, my husband took a job in California and we relocated. I was able to transfer my teaching credential and was hired at a small charter school in Santa Ana, CA. It’s a lot of paperwork and minutia, but it was worth it because this is what I was meant for!
Switching campus cultures is an experience. I went from a school where I owned the curriculum (the only section in our department I had never written or edited was AP English Language) to teaching at a school with absolutely no curriculum. No scope and sequence. No data collection. No interactive streamlined Google Classroom lessons with eight different add on education apps. I spent two months creating meaningful content for my students and doing my best to create connection with them so they would want to do my much more rigorous work. The teacher before me was what we called a “packet pusher”, I refused. I was going to be amazing, damn it.
So when I went to the hospital at 22 weeks pregnant and had to inform the campus I wasn’t returning that school year, I did as I do as a passionate educator and sat on my laptop in the antepartum wing of HOAG and put an entire semester of work including summer reading in Google Classroom, for on level and Pre AP sections of freshman English. I was so proud of it. I knew they would be learning and developing their language skills. I knew it was awesome. I expected some kind of at least thank you. The response email from the department head was, “This isn’t really freshman level work, it’s really over their heads. We’ll take care of things. You just focus on resting!” I never heard back from anyone outside of administration.
It didn’t matter. My effort and passion and love for my craft didn’t matter.
I knew deep down, especially because I had been on hiring committees and replaced teachers as a curriculum specialist, that there would always be someone else to do the work. To check the check boxes. To data dig. To color the name plates at in-service. To copy the lesson plans. To burn the candle at all ends for the one chance ONE lost student would progress. No matter how hard I loved education, it would go on without me.
I applied for probably 20-25 English positions after Owen was old enough to go to daycare. I had five interviews. Two of them I learned had hired first year teachers to fill the positions. Twice the same district interviewed me and gave me GLOWING rejection emails to hire newer teachers that had been substitutes. I was told by many in my Twitter teaching family I had to sub to get hired. Sub pay averages 100-150$ a day.
I decided instead that I’d had enough. I was over proving myself. I was over giving so much of myself to feel like nothing but a cog in the machine. I didn’t get a degree in English, work to get not one but two state certifications to teach, and work my soul to its limit to “make a difference” to make 125$ a day, put my fragile infant in daycare to MAYBE get a position teaching.
I’ve heard one too many educators compare teaching to an abusive relationship. The exchanges of “but I love it” and “it’s what I was meant for” over shadowed by administration subtly hinting “if you loved me you would…” The ellipses, if you’ve taught you know, are full of self sacrifice.
It shouldn’t be that way. So until we decide as a society to divide the work of creating a productive and educated nation between parent and student and educator and to compensate all educators fairly for their level of education and offering of self service. I’m done.
Right now I’m putting a minimal amount of effort into an Etsy shop while homeschooling my son. I’ll probably, inevitably, end up in technical writing for a company with good benefits. That’s what English majors do, edit or teach.
An additional note: For all of my fellow passionate educators who worked their sanity to pieces this semester working remotely- I see you and the hard work you’ve done and I have an immense amount of respect for you. I hope you’re taking care of yourselves as much as you do your students.