I started teaching right before a winter break twelve years ago, almost to the day. I’ve always said that if and when I left teaching, I wouldn’t do it mid-year. But I’ve been afforded an opportunity to work part-time and stay home with my six-month-old son. And, as guilty as I feel about leaving my students with a semester left, I’m more than ready to give up on teaching in North Carolina.
I’ve allowed myself to become embittered by the long hours spent grading, the outside interference in what and how I teach, the meetings and professional development required by forces who have never set foot inside my school — let alone my classroom. I’m tired of being tired and of having nothing to show for it but the meager compensation handed out when the public outcry reaches a fever pitch — more of an insult than an apology or solution.
It’s not one parent or one administrator or one assessment or one law that is making me and many other teachers leave the classroom. Because for every parent or administrator that makes me feel ill, there is another that is supportive and encouraging, whose belief in me inspires me and scares me in equal measure. For every bad assessment that schools are forced to pay for and for every law that does nothing but make my job more difficult and impossible, there are projects that I am allowed to do that truly show me what my students have learned and people fighting for laws that improve the lives of our students.
Still, I get panicky when I think about stepping away from what I know. People try to reassure me that I can always come back to the classroom. But I’m not so sure, knowing what I know now, that I would ever return.
How can I come back to teach in a state that won’t acknowledge I have a master’s degree in my field, and pay me accordingly? How can I come back to a state that puts such an emphasis on school report cards that even my charter school, which is more free from the rigorous benchmarking and bubble-filling that consume other public schools, has begun to obsess over? How can I believe in a public system that is being taken over by private industries creating the hoops through which we need to jump, the criteria by which we will be judged, and then changing it so we have to learn a whole new routine and so they can accrue more financial rewards? How can I re-enter a profession where support systems like teacher’s aides are being cut, handicapping the teachers from delivering the best to well-deserving kids? Those kids grow into high school students who perform behind their peers, and the state responds by dictating more tests and less services.
Rather than focus too long on the litany of problems, here’s what I will miss: I will miss the supporters of education who value teachers and trust us as professionals. I will miss the new teachers — whether they are right out of college and brimming with passion and idealism or leaving more financially-lucrative jobs to teach as a second career — who inspire me to learn new methods of teaching and who try so hard it brings them to tears. I will miss the veteran teachers who know what matters and what don’t, who recognize that like everything else, this hard time in education is cyclical. They are zen-like in the way they let the newest nonsense swirl around their feet and drain away like dirty bath water while they keep doing what they know is best for their charges.
I will miss the truly valuable projects that assess student learning and allow each student to shine in at least one area. And I will miss the students. They are funny, smart, frustrating, sweet, challenging, annoying, and awesome all in growing and changing bodies.
I hope the waves that are crashing on their shores and the aftershocks they feel when legislation rocks their places of learning don’t uproot their belief that teachers really do care about them and what is best for them.
Jennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.