I chose teaching as my career for a multitude of reasons: I loved kids, creativity, challenging work, etc. I chose special education because I believed in the complexity of tiny humans and the ability to adapt curriculum and learning experiences to help them become successful.
And every single day was really hard.
If you know a teacher, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “There is no tired like teacher-tired.” I am currently the mom to a spirited two and a half year old and a newborn, and work is still the most exhausting thing that I encounter. As a teacher, you are a performer. And post-COVID teaching? You are putting on a damn Broadway show. However, your audience is not captivated.
This school year was the year that did me in. Yes, the kids’ behaviors were bigger, their emotions more dysregulated, their knowledge more limited, their gaps in instruction wider and more difficult to navigate — but that wasn’t scary. Exhausting, yes, but intimidating? No. It was the state, the county, and their unbelievable disconnect from what was happening in the classrooms. It was the fact that they doubled up on two years of curriculum and just told us to “catch them up.” Try teaching kids how to add, subtract, and multiply fractions when they don’t even remember what a fraction is. It’s the fact that we still had state testing despite the fact that some classrooms (like mine) got hit with COVID so many times that students missed upwards of 20-30 instructional days. It’s the fact that every meeting held more expectations of paperwork, conferencing, and a million day-to-day items that were tedious and did nothing for the kids, but everything for the state to have a “cover your ass” set-up.
The problem with the million day-to-day items? Teachers don’t actually get to do 50% of their job during their job. The lesson planning, conferencing, communication, grading, team meetings, etc. almost all happens outside of the school day. I have yet to meet a teacher who leaves work on time — and if they do, they are setting themselves up on their sofa with a glass of wine, their computer, and a stack of papers.
So, as I stepped into my role of being a mom of two, I knew it wasn’t sustainable anymore. I couldn’t come home this tired, this emotionally wrecked, yell at my toddler for being a toddler, be short with my husband, and go to bed just to repeat it all over again. I needed a change. I thought to myself, everyone is switching up positions post-COVID, and I am a hard worker with a lot of experience and a Master’s degree! I’ll be able to find a job that lets me become less of a shell of a human. I’ll put in the work, and it’ll appear; I know it.
Almost 100 applications later, and I’ve only received one call back for an interview (which was requested by a friend). I am now in panic mode as our savings is dwindling (I missed paychecks due to maternity leave and running out of my sick days), and there are no prospects on the horizon. And I keep despairing that I’ll have to return to that classroom.
Here is the thing, the reason it took me so long to quit. I didn’t teach as my job. I was a teacher. It was, and still is, my identity. My worth, my value, came from that title. I know it wasn’t healthy, but it was true. It was the reason I could justify the strain on my family, the reason I could justify the friendships that started to slip, and the reason I could justify needing therapy and anxiety medication to get by on a daily basis. So, finally allowing myself to walk away was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made. But going back?
It’ll destroy me.
This glimpse into my clearly not well put together emotional state is to say this — I’m not the only one. I’m not the only teacher who feels this way. We should be worried. Parents should be up at the schools fighting tooth and nail for support for their kids’ teachers. Because we should not want teachers like me at the front of the classroom — teachers who are sacrificing their own selves for a passion whose leaders couldn’t care less about them. We are broken. And if our community doesn’t step up to the plate, the kids will be too.