When people ask me why I stopped teaching, I think I am just going to say “Penguin Eggs and Chewing Gum”. After all, I haven’t figured out how to wrap up five years of frustrations, tears, joys, triumphs, defeats, red tape, and nightmares into a quick, easy answer. It doesn’t really fit into one sentence all neat and cheery with a bow.
I left teaching for many reasons. First and foremost, to follow my dreams. That being said, it is a scary economic proposition to leave a full-time job to pursue the unknown. So it would have been better to have a job I could love, enjoy, tolerate, or not slit my wrists over to substantiate our income while I become the me I’ve always wanted to be.
I did not leave teaching because I hated teaching. I actually enjoyed teaching. I loved the “light bulb” moment, the “click” and the eyes lighting up when students actually got it. To be able to help them understand something, or to help them see it in a new way, was incredible.
Sharing my passion for writing, history, and social justice was awesome. I loved revealing the world’s incredible stories and mysteries to them. I loved seeing their confidence grow as they mastered new skills or learned new content. I loved their passion as they discovered injustices and vowed to right the wrongs. I loved the insatiable curiosity of the engaged learner.
I enjoyed the relationships that I made with students, some of whom I keep in touch with still today. I often had the extreme honor of teaching multiple children in the same family, partnering with those parents as each child in that family unit came through my classroom with unique successes and challenges. I was blessed to see children overcome incredible obstacles and families work through unimaginable circumstances.
Spending that amount of time with students, especially teaching them to write from their heart, allowed me to get to know a part of each little soul. What they feared, what they experienced at home, who they hoped to be, what they thought they knew, and what they were passionate about. They touched my heart, and I tried with all of it to touch their lives.
If I had to pick one main reason that I left the profession, it would have to be the disillusionment with our public education system and how we are failing those incredible kids.
Yes, I hated grading essays with every fiber of my being. I dreaded every single Saturday spent buried with hours upon hours of grading and lesson plans. Weeknights I felt I could never catch up no matter how many times I worked until the wee hours. I hated the many times I had to tell my own son I couldn’t spend time with him because I had to finish grading or working on staff development.
But my biggest complaint is not about the time and effort that went on outside the classroom. Anything worth having takes a lot of time and effort; I’m okay with that.
What I wasn’t okay with was going against my principles and my core beliefs every single day. I wasn’t able to stand by and watch the system fail the very kids it was supposed to be nurturing. I couldn’t swallow the hypocrisy of the programs and policies that did not function as they were presented to the public.
I railed against fixing grades so it appears that no child was left behind. Against lowering the standard for achievement and the expectation of the kids’ part in their own success so that it appears everyone is passing. Against ability grouping kids by sticking those with the lowest standardized test scores in with the highest behavior problems in the largest classes so they are lost in the shuffle.
I didn’t understand why the school system was often unwilling or unable to step up to the plate to incorporate accountability, responsibility, manners, and social worth into the schools when the parents were unable/unwilling/or uneducated in how to do it at home. School officials and even some teachers told me that it was the parents’ problem, and they would just have to deal with their kids when they were worthless adults. But I couldn’t help but think that if it ain’t happening at home, somebody’s got to teach it. Society needs active, viable members in order to succeed. The responsibility lies with all of us to preserve our own survival by producing adults who are capable of holding down jobs, being self-sufficient, and contributing.
My heart hurt over testing overkill that completely stressed out the kids and invalidated those who do not test well. And over kids who needed accommodations to enable them to learn, but lack of resources, time, and training kept them from getting those accommodations properly. Other kids have been crippled by their accommodations and are unable to step up and grasp their own potential beyond what is handed to them.
I was exhausted from jumping through hoop after hoop to satisfy paperwork requirements and government mandates that drain time and energy and do not directly impact learning. The lack of supplies, technology and support often prevents teachers from being able to use their training, their instincts, and the latest research/techniques to best help their kids learn. Yet time and money are both spent heavily in other areas.
I struggled to manage my anger at the lack of parenting and the loss of value placed on education. I shared the frustration of parents who were genuinely concerned for their kids and couldn’t fight the system, and I longed to scream out to those parents who were oblivious to how bad their kids were getting screwed. I worried about the kids who have no stability or basic needs at home, much less encouragement, support and motivation.
Alongside me were some of the finest people I will ever meet, who daily stood with me in the trenches and gave their all and then some to teach and attempt to change lives. Their passion and dedication for children and learning is so often overlooked and underappreciated, yet it is so crucial to the fiber of our society. They toil in an often thankless and blame-filled profession, and I salute them.
At the same time, some teachers saddened my heart and pissed me off at how easily they caved to the system, bullied their students, or faked their way through teaching to collect a check and sleep in for the summer. They are a disgrace to the profession, and they make it infinitely harder for their peers.
And I can’t possibly explain all of this in any depth in one quick and easy answer.
So if anyone asks why I left teaching, I think I will just say: Penguin Eggs and Chewing Gum. And then I’ll direct them here, where I can take the time to explain it one story at a time. And who knows? Maybe I can do something for the kids here that I couldn’t accomplish there.