Every August, I would lose my mind (and half my paycheck) at back to school sales. Did you know there are an infinite number of ways to design a delightful classroom? Catchy themes, notable quotes, color schemes - joy! rapture! highlighters! Where would our imaginations take us this year? We read mythology and hosted our own Greek Olympics; we analyzed poetry and performed original works at our Poetry Slam; we studied Renaissance art and painted modern masterpieces. We read and performed Shakespeare with a resident actor. And all that learning paid off – my Language Arts classes had the highest reading scores in the school. I was rated "Satisfactory."
I loved teaching. I just hated being a teacher. I resigned in April and felt the wave of relief that accompanies right decisions. But this is not a blog post about why I left. If you want to read one of those, you can go here, here, here, or here.
You already know why I left. Hardly a day goes by without a cathartic blog or cheeky op-ed from teachers, parents, and politicians waxing poetic about deplorable school conditions, misguided school and district leaders, poorly implemented evaluation policies, and the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of teachers. Several idiots post snide comments about getting out of work at 3pm and having summers off.
We already know why teachers leave, but what would make them stay? “Stay,” because there is not actually a problem attracting teachers to the profession - we just have a problem keeping them for more than five years. Programs like Teach for America have proven that attracting people to the profession is mostly in the marketing. Lots of people like the idea of teaching; precious few can tolerate the realities of the profession. We are left with a pool of martyrs and masochists, mostly, which does not smack of sustainability.
I have spent the past month in my first professional non-teaching job. Let me tell you about the luxuries of my new job.
I have discovered that there are more than 25 sites on the Internet. Gosh, some of these news articles and videos sure would have been helpful when I was teaching Social Studies. Speaking of which, I now have time to read the news. A lot has happened in the world these past three years, during which I was buried under a mountain of bureaucratic tasks.
I have regained the freedom to pee as I please. I can’t overstate this. Gone are the days of dehydrating myself until 4pm. A bevy of beverages! Water, coffee, tea, juice - as much as I want. (I don't even have to ask to use the restroom. I may just go.)
I have learned that there are happy hours on days other than Friday?! People all over the city enjoy an hour (or three) of happy every day.
My boss does not stand at the door of my cubicle and watch me work. We do have meetings every week, though. She emails me frequently and expresses interest in my personal well-being.
At lunchtime, I eat my lunch. Sometimes we go to Chipotle, which is a real thrill.
I'm not being flip. I'm reclaiming my life, my autonomy, and my personal health and happiness, which somehow got lost in the shuffle as I let teaching consume me. Teachers' work is never done, because their charge is Herculean. And instead of lauding teachers for the tireless super-heroes and heroines they are, we vilify them. We closely monitor them. We strip them of autonomy and professional choices. We call them lazy, because they're trying to do the work of 10 people and inevitably come up short.
Why do half of teachers leave the profession? Why do half of teachers stay?
Let’s talk sustainable systems and long-term planning, instead of bemoaning band-aid fixes and emergency certifications. Let's create schools and classrooms that will allow teachers to enjoy the anticipation of August all year long.