Listen, I hate to do this digitally and quite so publicly, but I’ve always been better at expressing myself in long form than on a whim with a shot of liquid courage to bolster me.
Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, panic, and blow up my phone, no, I did not break up with Anthony. He is safe. For now. (Kidding! Obligatory mood lightener.)
No, no, no. This break-up letter has been highly anticipated and requested over the last two months.
You see, a week ago I revealed that I did not return to the classroom at the start of this year. Those near and dear to me were well-aware that my departure was imminent. And my colleagues had watched as I made preparations over this last school year. But many of you were shocked to find that I had so “easily” left teaching. Quite a few of you messaged me asking why and it was a question that came up frequently in interviews I participated in during my job search this summer.
So, here it is. No holding back. My honest, genuine, heartfelt goodbye letter to a career I never dreamed of leaving.
For the last 12 years, I have poured every ounce of my being into a job that was never a job. When I decided to pursue this field, I bought into the philosophy that “teaching is a way of life” and that it’s “a work of the heart.” Having come from two short stints in public relations and law, I felt drawn to helping people. With the guidance of my high school AP English teacher, I recognized that I had a job in this life to leave the world better than I found it. And I knew I could make my mark in the classroom.
So I leaned in. Hard. Over 12 years, I bought thousands of dollars' worth of classroom supplies - from printer paper to markers to scissors to classroom decor to anchor charts and posters to pencils to tissues to books for my classroom library to better resources to supplement my lesson plans. I spent hours after school each day grading, scrambling to leave with enough time to pick my own children up from daycare before it closed. I volunteered for each and every activity I was able to attend - from doing the makeup for the school play to running in the Turkey Trot Race. I even woke my own children up early on Saturday mornings to support my students at their town soccer games (45 minutes away). I had snacks available in my desk and supplied countless breakfasts or lunches to students I knew weren’t getting meals at home. I purchased door decorating supplies and spirit week costumes, even dressing up as Cat in the Hat to celebrate Dr. Seuss Day.
When I wasn’t in my classroom or supporting students within the community, I was thinking about school. Most of my morning commutes were spent brainstorming how I could deliver that day’s lessons with more pizazz to ensure students actually enjoyed what they were learning or finding new methods to teach old skills, ones that were sure to stick. Rides home were spent on the phone with colleagues debriefing from the day or touching base about necessary follow-ups for the next day. Once my own children were in bed each night, there was more grading and planning to be done or parent and student emails to answer, my phone going off sometimes as late as 11 pm. I typically pulled at least two all-nighters each quarter to ensure all of the end-of-term writing assignments were graded.
I lived and breathed the job I was entrusted with performing. And I never took for granted the infinite impact I could have in a student’s life. If I could show respect, kindness, love, grace, compassion, and empathy in my classroom, who knows what kind of ripple effect I might be creating? One surely I’d never fully see the result of in my lifetime. My classroom ran on these sacred tenets and I worked tirelessly every day to show it.
It’s become second nature for us to use the pandemic as an excuse, but the truth of the matter is that teaching changed when Covid-19 hit. Educators have always been adaptable and creative, but this tested our limits and resources far beyond our capacities. While we were asked, again and again, to change our methods and be more flexible and understanding, more and more constraints were placed upon us.
We were asked to be understanding of each student’s circumstances and give more leeway than we were accustomed to. Rules and expectations were relaxed and accountability dissolved quickly thereafter. Administrators, acquiescing to parents, failed to sufficiently support teachers. District and state leaders, attempting to regain some sense of normalcy, doubled down on efforts to “close the learning gap” created by the pandemic and in doing so, handed down countless new directives and initiatives meant to drive our scores back up. Coaches were brought in, new curriculums developed, new committees formed, all intent on pushing us ahead.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, there were the students to take into account. The school closures affected each student differently. Many thrived in digital learning situations, some of them failed to connect and succeed for a number of reasons in this model. But this blip in their educational career? It hit them, regardless. Many lost the motivation and drive to perform in school. Getting them to buy into their educational success was like dangling a carrot in front of a teenager and telling them it was a Cheeto. They weren’t biting. For some, it took weeks to get back to their pre-Covid habits. Some of them are still adjusting.
But it was more than just their educational needs and performance that was affected. In the 12 years I was in the classroom, I saw a startling uptick in the number of students requiring emotional and mental health support. They faced, at times, crippling anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts. Not to mention their attempt to navigate a slew of other qualifiers and home-front conditions we sometimes knew nothing about, like divorcing parents or navigating LGBTQ+ or dealing with the fall-out of social media posts gone wrong.
I am a strong person. I know this. Over the course of my tenure in the classroom, I received my masters, had two children, watched my mother battle cancer, had weight loss surgery, lost loved ones, left a toxic marriage & got divorced, bought a house, and renovated another.
But it was too much.
I could no longer balance the emotional needs of my students with the demands placed on me by my administrators and society against the mental health of my own children and myself. I could no longer tell my daughter that I couldn’t talk about the incident that happened at her school because I had to take a call from the guidance counselor to discuss a student’s home experiences. With each passing year, I felt the mental burden growing and my capacity to handle it while having enough bandwidth leftover for my own children after school was dwindling. I couldn’t continue to put them second.
There will be some of you who say, “But this is what you signed up for.”
But is it? Don’t I deserve to be able to do a job I love and still have room in my life for the people and passions and hobbies I love? Don’t I deserve to be appreciated, respected, valued, and heard in my position? Don’t I deserve to be happy and healthy, too?
If you had asked me five years ago if I’d ever leave teaching, the answer would have enthusiastically and emphatically been a “no” accompanied by a ferocious headshake. I thought I’d retire as a teacher. I couldn’t even imagine leaving the confines of my classroom for an administrative position because I was that devoted to my curriculum, my career, my children.
But here we are. Twelve years down, two degrees in, and all I have to show for it is another cautionary tale of a tapped out teacher.
Heed my warning, the views and opinions I represent here do not exist in a vacuum. Mine is a story all too familiar to many of my colleagues nationwide. Unfortunately, many of them are scared to share their true feelings in fear of retaliation from administrators and parents or they wish to dodge the shameful eye that society casts upon them, a glare that burns and cuts deeply.
Because when you give and give and give of yourself so selflessly without even the tiniest shred of appreciation, eventually you run dry. Remember the Shel Silverstein book we all read as a child, The Giving Tree? Soon, there will be nothing left to give. You’ll reduce your teaching force to nothing more than a stump. And we will all be forced to make a hard choice: is it going to be me, or this job?