For the past seven years I have had the privilege of working at the most wonderful school with an amazing staff and administration. I made many mistakes in my first few years of teaching, but I had people who believed in me and knew that I was learning and growing. It has been a place that made me the teacher I am and as a result, have always been happy to go into work everyday.
But with that happiness also comes some discontent. In order to have such a wonderful, supportive, autonomous work environment, I have spent two hours of my day, five days a week, in the car. I justified the long drive because I was working in an environment that allowed me to flourish as a teacher. I looked forward to walking through the door of my classroom everyday and learning with my students. But lately I've just been overwhelmed by it all. I think the gravitas of realizing how much of my life has been taken up by driving, in addition to all the extra work that's involved with being a teacher, has left me feeling that while I love my school, I can't continue to live like this.
So in January I tearfully met with my principal to tell her I would not be returning next year. It was a hard decision, but one I knew I had to make for my own health and sanity.
So what's next for me? I have no idea. And you know what? In a way, I'm okay with that. Part of me is excited at the prospect of the unknown, of what the future holds for me, but the other half is anxious and disconsolate because I don't know if that future will include being in the classroom.
You see, part of my discontent as of late has been not only how much of my life I've spent in the car driving to and from work everyday, but also how much life I am missing out on from the obligations of this job. It might be a job I love, but you can also resent and be tied down by what you love. That's how I've been feeling lately. And while spending time with my students in the classroom watching them learn and grow gives me great joy, it's really the minutia of this job that gets to me: the extra work that most people, unless they are a teacher or live with a teacher, have no idea about.
And it's the assumption most people have outside of the teaching profession that we only have an 8-3 work day that continues to frustrate and make me give Taylor Mali poetry recitations at dinner parties. Politicians and educational "leaders" who have never taught in a classroom are making decisions based on those assumptions and on behalf of students and teachers across this country. People like Michelle Rhee are pushing to evaluate a teacher's worth largely on test scores, and our secretary of education, Arne Duncan, wants us all to make education a "race" despite the fact that the very nature of a race is to leave people behind. I don't know any teacher who desires her classroom to be a race to anything. Most teachers I know want to guide each child by the hand and meet them where they're at to get them where they need to be. That's not a race Mr. Duncan, that involves patience and diligence and the understanding that all kids are different. I'm not seeing much room for differentiation in the educational policy that's being handed down these days. Any sort of dignity or professional image teachers used to have has been besmirched by politics and popular media who only portray teachers as incompetent and greedy. And while teaching at a private school has largely shielded me from most of this negativity, I can't help but wonder what's out there for me as I set out to begin my job search.
So I'm currently looking for answers. Answers for why, with all the negativity that's out there in politics and in the media, why should I stay in the classroom? Serendipitously, I'm taking a class this semester that is all about how to give teachers a voice in this time of educational "reform" and teacher bashing. The project I have chosen is on teacher retention. Because I want to know, despite all that we've been told we're doing wrong, who's choosing to stay and who's choosing to fight for teachers? Thankfully I have had a nurturing, supportive environment from which to learn these past seven years, and yet I still managed to burn out. If I'm questioning my future despite the fortuitous hand I was dealt, I can absolutely, positively see why teacher satisfaction is at an all-time low and those who haven't been as lucky as me are choosing to leave the profession.
Despite all that seems to be going against teachers these days, there are still beacons of light in this surging storm, lightships to help guide the way home.
On Friday I drove to Grand Rapids to attend the Michigan Reading Association conference where I saw and connected with some of my favorite teachers: members of the Nerdy Book Club. It was there, as we talked, listened, and tweeted about all the things we are passionate about that I realized that this community, this tribe, is my ticket to staying in the classroom. You see, it's not just new teachers that need mentoring. Veteran teachers need support and communities to keep them going too. And these people are my bucket fillers. People like Donayln Miller, Brian Wyzlic, Paul Hankins, Katherine Sokolowski, Niki Barnes, Colby Sharp, Jillian Heise, Jessica Crawford, Sarah Andersen, Kristin McIlhagga, Erica Beaton... I could go on and on... These are my people, my tribe. They overflow my bucket with inspiration and hope. Because, when I click on a link to the Nerdy Book Club blog and read posts like this one from Brian Wyzlic, or listen to Paul Hankins read a poem about how books saved him that is so beautiful and so vulnerable that you must look away in order to wipe away your tears, it's really hard to want to walk away from it all.
So to my Nerdy Book Club tribe, I'm going to be enlisting your help in the next few weeks. I need your continued inspiration and sense of hope. I want to know why you stay. Inspire me. Because right now, I'm going to be needing the teacher equivalent of a Kid President Pep Talk:
If you're interested in helping me out, please let me know and I can email you the details of my project.
Things are still up in the air and unknown for me. But one thing will always remain constant: education and literacy will always be my vocation. In what capacity that vocation is manifested remains to be seen.