Why I left Education

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.

The day I received my keys to my classroom. So enthusiastic. So naive.

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.

Did I mention I was also a color guard director? I loved it! So did my offspring in my belly. He still loves a good horn line.

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.

My students made me a meme once. I still find it HILARIOUS.

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.

Top Five things to know for moving to California from Texas!

  1. Pack and organize efficiently!
    1. We have things in two locations of storage, plus what we have in the house. Sometimes we know where things are, sometimes we don’t. While it was fun to go “shopping” for maternity clothes in storage because it didn’t cost me anything, I also spent 2 hours trying to find the power cord to my Cricut, which was packed in a different box. I definitely wish I had been more focused the week we packed.
    2. Label, Label, Label. Nothing is worse than opening 10 boxes labeled Kitchen when you’re trying to find ONE stock pot. Label the room, then a summary of the contents. Kitchen- Pots and Pans or Master Bedroom – Office Supplies
    3. You have to pack differently if you’re moving directly to your forever home versus storing temporarily. Also, watch that Marie Kondo documentary before you start packing. There is nothing worse than the feeling of, “Why did I move this crap?”
  2. Driver’s licenses are not treated the same
    1. California has different laws when it comes to getting a driver’s license. In order to get a REAL ID, yes that’s what it’s called, you will need your social security card, birth certificate or passport, and proof of residency.
    2. In Texas, there are two forms of your birth certificate, a long form, and a short form. California won’t accept the short form. So I ordered a long form of my birth certificate and my passport at the same time. Strangely, the passport office accepted my short form birth certificate. My passport arrived first and I was able to get my driver’s license!
    3. I missed two questions on the test: One about the speed limit you drive in the rain (drive the speed limit safest for the conditions) and the other about legal u-turns (You can only make a legal U-turn in a residential area). In California, you also have to pull into the bike lane in order to make a right turn, which is not something I’m used to. You can also have your license suspended for using your phone while driving! So if you come to visit, connect to Bluetooth!
  3. If you’re a teacher, submit documentation early
    1. The California Teacher Credentialing website clearly states it can take up to 50 business days to process a credential. In Texas, we call it our certification. My biggest hiccup was because once I moved, they required I re-do my fingerprinting in California, rather than accepting the fingerprint cards I had done in Houston. So far I’ve invested $130 into making sure the Department of Justice has my fingerprints.
    2. Do not expect to have the same certificate/credential transfer. In Texas, I am certified for English Language Arts and Reading grades 7-12 with my ESL supplemental. In California, I hold a Single Subject English credential which allows me to teach Pre-K through 12th grade, but no EL accommodation. Insanity! But considering how much of the Texas ESL test was just Texas law, I’m not surprised it didn’t transfer. Also, I have no intentions of going elementary. That’s a different breed of educator.
  4. Healthcare is subsidized, yay! It’s also a hot mess of bureaucracy
    1. Cameron has healthcare through his new company, but it was way too pricy to add me and Colbito. Through Covered California, the government assesses your income and needs and subsidizes your healthcare costs accordingly.
    2. If you are expecting, they automatically make you sign up for MediCal, the California healthcare for all. We applied really early in Texas, so we have BlueShield California for cheaper than my health care through the Texas Teacher Retirement System.
    3. I spent 4 hours on the phone with 3 different insurance organizations on Monday. Our personal insurance agent said, “This is the idiotic bureaucracy you can expect if Healthcare for all really passes.” Not sure if I agree, but it was an intriguing perspective.
  5. People might be genuinely more friendly here, but don’t expect any southern or Mexican food to be the same.
    1. The food isn’t bad, but don’t go into a restaurant expecting it to taste like Tex-Mex or your neighborhood southern fried chicken and barbeque, goods are not as advertised.
    2. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good! There are some awesome locals making really good food. We tried a Mexican restaurant called Descando with an hibachi style grill but it was repurposed as a taco bar. It was so cool to watch my chile relleno grilled with melted cheese before me, rather than fried or baked behind the scenes.
    3. I’m most curious about Harper Barbeque, one because it shares a family name, and two because they are promising central Texas-style barbeque, and I happen to be an expert. They can be followed at @harperbarbeque on Instagram. Anything else I’ve tried wasn’t even close to home but the promise of a piece of the Hill Country might make me a happier Californian.
    4. There isn’t a grocery store remotely similar to HEB. You have to make multiple stops for different items depending on price/availability/brand. The only thing familiar is that Ralph’s is basically Randall’s and they carry similar products to Kroger. I did research and they’re all owned by Safeway.

https://www.instagram.com/harperbarbecue

Just an amazing souvenir from my Harper family reunion.

Five more tips for not murdering everyone around you during the process of moving… and finding a job.

  1. Make a to-do list every day
    1. Even if it is just to do laundry, wash your face, and go on a walk. Give yourself a daily purpose.
  2. Have goals for the day, week, and month
    1. Being able to see something outside the moment you’re in will make a huge difference in your perspective
  3. Take time to center
    1. Things can, and will, get overwhelming. Take moments to breathe and absorb the moment you’re in rather than be overwhelmed by the situation as a whole
  4. Do things that bring you happiness
    1. Have I been playing pop-punk covers in my car? Yes, I have. Fall Out Boy’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody is GOLD. Ok, maybe bronze, but I love it. Unapologetically choose to be happy and do happy things.
  5. Contact your village often
    1. Sorry not sorry to my Texas girls I’ve been texting all day every day. But you know what? I feel like your village keeps you centered.