An Open Letter to the Teachers Writing Open Letters About Why They’re Leaving Teaching
I keep seeing passionate posts about why teachers are leaving the profession. They talk about class size, and testing, and the lack of respect and support they feel from every level – parents, administration, the government. And of course, they talk about pay.
But for some reason, my heart is content.
This year was a rough one. I felt especially dumped on. And yes, I’ve had some “seniority perks” these last few years, but I also only make $6000 more with twenty-one years and a master’s degree than a brand new teacher does, which could be demoralizing. I had a discouraging meeting with a retirement specialist this fall who informed me I need to teach five years longer than I thought because I withdrew money from my TRS savings after five years in the biz, unknowingly wiping those years from existence. I am being moved to a classroom that seems like it was designed by someone who has never actually been in a classroom. And of course, the job has become increasingly frustrating with all of the things that – by law – you have to do while making sure you don’t do the things that – by law – you cannot. Either could strip you of your certificate.
Yet, for some reason, my heart is content.
For twenty years, I took on second, third, and summer jobs, both to make ends meet and to explore other avenues. I’ve signed up as a “consultant” with at least three different home-sales companies and dreamed up hundreds of other ventures that might forge the path for my eternal wealth and bliss. I’ve *almost* used every Groupon that comes my way for a Real Estate license or Interior Decorator’s certification. I’ve spent no less than $15,000 writing books and publishing them because That. Would. Be. The. Life.
But now, more than ever, my heart is content.
I don’t know how else to say it but that I Am A Teacher Who Loves Her Job. I love it now that I teach in an affluent community and with a supportive administration, and I loved it when I taught at a Title I school with a jackass principal (not you, Greg Crockett, but you know who I’m talking about.)
Do I love the required meetings that barely apply to me? Or the fact that I have eleven more students than desks sometimes? Or the fact that I am undervalued in my community and by my government?
And yet, my heart is excited and anxious and giddy that I get to do it all again in a couple of months.
I get sparks and goosebumps because of kids and the things they do and say more times each day than in any job I can dream up. My mind is challenged every hour by curious misfiring brains wrapped up in insane hormonal bodies. I am overflowing with pride and joy multiple times per day when I overhear conversations between teenagers that prove that they are listening and watching and longing for an example of a positive attitude about this thing – education – in which they are lawfully bound to participate. And while the two furl lines on my forehead are actually tiny lists of former students’ names, these same kids somehow keep me young. I can’t pull off saying the phrases they use, but I know what they mean, and they love making fun of me when I try. And while I’ve tried and still don’t like Post Malone, I do love that my kids take it as a challenge to find a popular song they think I’ll actually like. They’re learning how to find common ground.
Class size, taking your work home, going to meetings? Cry a river to every professional in your circle. There are very few careers that won’t get progressively more difficult and swallow your soul and your joy if you allow them to.
Pay? First of all, I taught as a single mother for $23k for five years. It can be done. Second of all, when I wanted more money, I found a second job I could do with ALL THOSE DAYS OFF I HAD. If you want to put your kids in childcare and forfeit some memorable breaks and lazy days with your friends and family, teachers are allowed and capable of turning 187 workdays into 261 – like the rest of the working world. Do teachers need time to re-charge? Of course! But so do nurses, pilots, single moms, first responders, truck drivers, surgeons, and people who move heavy furniture every day.
Testing? Sure, someone needs to smack a few politicians across their glossy, miserable faces for wanting more testing. But regulations, to some degree, are required in every job. I’m not at all against standardized testing. I am more for using them for personal assessment for teachers and students, and I’m a huge fan of the growth measure for diagnostic purposes. And though tethering funding to test scores is complicated, in most cases its motive is to provide more money to schools who need more help. Why would I be against that? The truth is, I have never heard of a school doing anything tangibly punitive to teachers for low scores. And sure, there are teachers who get bonuses for high scores, lah-tee-dah, but who cares? Not me. Good for them. Hopefully you didn’t get into this job for the bonuses.
Respect and support? You shouldn’t require them in any area of your life to do something you know is good and right.
Are there teachers who just don’t like teaching? Of course…and they should leave. In fact, we should show them the way out…they’re kind of contributing to the whole “lack of respect from students and community” thing. If it doesn’t bring you joy and gratification, it’s OKAY…it’s not your thing. Class size, community support, and salary increases aren’t going to make it any better.
But if you love it – you really love it…not just the great breaks, but the act of teaching itself, the pure joy of witnessing growth in these miniature adults – please stay. We need you. There are teachers on every hallway who are not only experts on their subject, but experts at loving our kids (long long list of people to tag here). We’ve figured out how to pay our bills with our paychecks, we’ve made a welcoming space for that thirty-first student on our roster, and we’re rebels with a cause – shutting our doors, tuning out the noise, and making lives better.
So to teachers who are miserable and leaving – Good luck to ya! I mean it. But please stop trying to rally the troops, and please, please, please stop throwing shade on the whole career. It was the wrong choice for you. But one man’s trash is this teacher’s treasure.
Summer schlummer. Whatever. It’s over.
The great thing about blogging is you’re always blogging in your head. The awful thing about blogging is you’re always blogging in your head.
This one’s been swimming up there for a while, but nonetheless, I give you “The Green Piano Post”.
So. Sometime between 1970 when my parents got married, and 1975 when I was born, my folks spent their hard-earned G.I. money on – No, not a down-payment on a house…No, not stocks in McDonald’s – a piano. God love ’em. Such a beautiful hippie love story, and I’m proud of it to this day. I’m pretty sure they were eating beans and rice or the equivalent, but By God they had a piano, and I know they sat at it night after night and played Kum-Ba-Yah and Puff the Magic Dragon and whatever else the Readers’ Digest Piano Book contained that was in a key that worked for their perfect triad: guitar capo, piano, and vocal range.
Forty plus years later: Their 1970’s flower child who grew up playing that piano now spends hours a week with her hot husband/love/bff/duet partner and his guitar/ukulele cranking out Kasey Musgraves and Symarip and Jack Johnson. The same piano is featured in her newly renovated front room, and it hosts at least 12 different pairs of hands each week.
The variable: Instagram and an obsession with paint. So, you need some background here – I’m the girl who saw curtains she liked, couldn’t afford them, bought some similar curtains and painted each and every stripe the desired color…four pairs of 96″ curtains. She wanted yellow and blue, not khaki and blue. I’m the girl who bought a figure-flattering dress for her role as Grace Farrell in “Annie – the Musical”, but was told she couldn’t wear a red dress because Annie wore a red dress, so she spray-painted it with car upholstery paint until it was some weird form of black with a red sheen. Also the girl who follows Annie Sloan Paint on Instagram because her motto is “Paint Everything”.
So when I saw a painted piano on her feed, I thought “huh. I haven’t painted a piano. I have a piano. I have paint. Why don’t I have a painted piano?”
Now, I’ve painted a lot of things, but nothing has caused me pause and reflection quite like this piano. Nevertheless, with the kickass new home reno and no hope of a baby grand in sight, I just decided to close my figurative eyes and jump in. LOTS of encouragement from hot husband, who, based on his experience with me, couldn’t believe that I talked about it and didn’t make it happen the same day. I told him I needed to process this one.
So, after a couple of weeks of reflection, I stuck the brush into the green paint and touched it to the piano and knew that now I had to do it. It made me a little sick. Until two very strong feelings swept over me consecutively, in a very connected way. In such a way that I’m not sure I’ll do it justice.
First, I was overwhelmed with the realization that those two hippies who could have bought food or a television or something else more conventional – bought a piano. And then they made a baby, and their combined DNA created a baby who wanted to paint everything and play every song and sing every note and love everything deeply. And I realized that they can’t get mad that I’m painting their piano – they made ME, and so it’s their own faultslashcredit.
Then, without warning, I was overcome by the feeling of gratitude for having a Nike husband. To anything I want to do, his response is “Just Do It!” or something like it. And he MEANS it. It my past life (ex-life), I wasn’t even allowed to play the piano when ex was home because it “made too much noise”. I was discouraged from painting all the things I wanted to paint because I would “diminish their value”. So what am I even here for? Something in me was programmed to want to make things different from everything else…What was really going to be negatively affected, the painted furniture, or who I thought I was?
I love my green piano. It is fun. It says, “come play me…I don’t bite…we’re all just here to have some fun while we can.” It speaks volumes about how much I love the way my parents raised me. It sings a melody of the freedom that comes from finding your one-and-only who wants you to just keep being more of you.
And hey (this could have been my life’s motto), if you have to be an upright, be the funkiest one in town.
I just deleted the whole post I had started (and almost finished) here because of how whiny it sounded when I reread it just now. I’ve been crying a lot. That’s it. Don’t know why (maybe job-change, house in boxes for upcoming reno, band seemingly slowly dismantling, treadmill isn’t working, watching Call the Midwife, allergies, lack of sleep, being 40, maybe.)
In the meantime I blamed everything else imaginable. I know it’s not my husband’s fault, or lacrosse’s, or his band’s, or anything else I accused. But I can’t really fix any of the likely culprits. So I’m going to stop whining. (I might not be able to stop crying, but I can stop whining.)
That’s it. Short post. If I keep going it’s going to turn into whining. (And probably crying.)
So, if you’re one of the few, the proud, who have followed my journey into figuring out what I want to do now that I don’t need benefits – aka, my mid-life crisis – you’ll know that I’ve recently resigned my “coveted” (ha!) position as Curriculum Specialist and taken a job back in the classroom. I guess I’ll call that Step One.
I’m mixing reality shows, but somewhere between Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader and The Biggest Loser, I know that at some point, a failed contestant has to look at the camera and say, “I am NOT smarter than a fifth grader,” and Bob Greene says to the kicked=0ff contestant “I’m sorry, but you are NOT the biggest loser.” I feel like when I walk off this job on June 14th, I’ll gladly look into a camera and say “My name is Angie, and I am NOT a curriculum specialist.”
And that makes me proud right now. I want to be a teaching specialist…A kid specialist, a learning and reading and thriving specialist, but not a curriculum specialist. Sure you have to have a curriculum – even though I managed to be a successful teacher for many years either without one or without paying attention to one. But I understand you have to know what you’re supposed to teach, and by nature, you need some measure of your and your students’ success with those goals. And since there are thousands of teachers in Texas – hundreds or more of which are not naturally good – there has to be a common assessment.
I don’t want a common classroom, though.
My treadmill broke last week, and it’s been stressing me into a depression. I’ve learned to do my running and walking in the comfort of my pollen-free bedroom while watching Keith Morrison lay out the details of murder after riveting murder. There is no way on earth I’m going back outside in the dark where the mosquitos are and it might be humid and there aren’t – fortunately and unfortunately – any murders to be solved. So I’ve done no running or walking, just cursing a lot at my treadmill and the scales.
So here’s where I’m going with this: The scales are how I measure and celebrate my hard work on the treadmill. But without the treadmill, I am stubbornly content to just watch that number go in the wrong direction and bitch about the broken treadmill – as if that’s how to fix it. Tests are how we measure our hard work in the classroom – Is that the way I’m going to measure and celebrate my hard work with kids??? Of course not! Never have, why start now?!? I want to find alternative ways – aka “the right ways” – to sneekily achieve what our advantaged students achieve – without the moaning and dread and copy machine. I know this is possible. Dear friend, colleague, mentor, in a conversation with a Resource teacher, flailing a STAAR practice workbook and bitching about the broken copier, reminded her that what kids really need to is to be reading. Resource teacher said to friend, “It’s not what your kids need, but it’s what my kids need,” (paraphrasing) to which friend replied, in her head, “My kids don’t need that because they REEEEAAAADDDD!!!!” I know these truths to be self-evident.
So translate, brainiac! (me to self) – If you can find alternative ways to facilitate a learning environment that achieves the same (or better) measures of success in the classroom, why are you so uncreative and unwilling with the running?? You ran outside for decades when it was all you had, but you’ve been spoiled. Would you be complaining about your kids scores if you had given up on them too?
Not sure what the challenge here is, but I think it’s along these lines: You know what the goal is, and you know what your resources are, and you know what you have to do…Don’t blame a broken treadmill for your lack of activity. And don’t ever blame a set of broken standards for your lack of creativity.
Today, on the 44th anniversary of my hot husband’s birth, I submit to you a small pictorial sampling of the things he does that make me smile.
The vast majority of these are from events related to music, sports, water, or motorcycle rides (several are even a combination of more than one) – things I enjoy the very most in the whole wide world. Though I would still be the happiest girl in the world if we never did anything or went anywhere and had no money and no friends, I thank my lucky stars every day that I get to ride this ride with him…my dream guy.
I think he was put on this earth to do so many amazing things, and he blesses so many people with his gifts and his love and his passion. But it’s a big enough task to thank him for what he does for little ‘ol me, so I’m sticking to that for this post…
Happy Birthday, My Love!…Thanks, People Makers! 🙂
I wish – so badly – that I knew how other people’s brains worked. I don’t feel like mine is normal, if there even is such a thing.
It would give me some peace to know that everybody’s brains were completely unique – like a fingerprint – so there was no “normal” to compare to. But I have a feeling that there is a range of brain and thought patterns, wide as it may be, and mine is way outside the range.
OVER-ANALYZING: I wish I didn’t always care what people’s motives were. When someone does or says something, I like to interpret what they really meant. I like to try to figure out what they’re hoping my response will be. When I was single, this was bad enough, but then I had a child, and now a husband plus two, and I do it for all of us since none of them seem to care to do it for themselves.
OBSESSING: As I’ve probably explained quite well so far, I obsess about a lot of things. But the thing that probably qualifies me for medication and possibly some federal funding is the obsession I feel when I find out I don’t or didn’t know something I should have known (fill in the blank with just about anything that either didn’t affect me, didn’t matter, or wasn’t at all a big deal). I want to know why, I want to know who’s job it was to tell me – is my email broken? do people not think about me? do I even really exist??? I will obsess until I get to the bottom of it – which usually involves knocking some people down along the way and talking really fast (and not listening to “answers” that don’t do anything to “answer” my questions.) Apparently.
OVER-OBSERVING: If you’ve been an acquaintance at any time in my life, I’ve known what you drive, and if I’ve passed you ever on the road, I’ve seen you. I probably waved and you didn’t. I’ll notice every discarded tag in the bathroom trash, any set of blinds that is turned a slightly different angle than I turn them, and any Q-tip that doesn’t look like it came from any of our ears. I should have been a detective, because this super-power does me no good whatsoever in my everyday life. Also, I seem to be the only person at work to utter the words “Y’all match!” It’s a wasted gift, really.
What I want from all of this is to be Oblivious – some of the time anyway. I don’t want to take prescriptions or do illegal drugs. I think it’s probably why I like a little drinkiepoo every now and then. Any suggestions? Meditation? (Just so you know, I’ve tried to be a pray-er, but I don’t focus very well, and before I know it I’m planning dinner or remembering to return my Stitch Fix, and then a few hours later I remember that I need to say in-Jesus’s-name-I-pray-Amen.) Anybody? Same?
I just Googled this term, and it’s not even a thing. It was at 510 Brodie when I was growing up. This term, apparently made up by my mother, embodies so many wonderful things about my upbringing and heritage, and so many things I can’t seem to give up.
Are all obsessions bad? I feel like this one is just one of my quirks (I think I’m justifying a lot of these post topics that way lately…) But it is an obsession nonetheless – one that causes undue stress almost every day. I’m not expecting – or even wanting – to turn this one completely off…just moderate my expectations.
If I was going to cast someone to play my mother in a movie about her life, I would have a hard time deciding between the proper Hyacinth (from the BBC) and the oh-so-southern Paula Dean (from the South). She’s the juxtaposition of keeping up appearances and lovin’ Jesus while cookin’ with bacon grease. Her mother (more like a mixture of characters from Dallas and The Beverly Hillbillies) wasn’t too much different in her appearances/housekeeping/presentation standards. On more than one occasion, I called to ask if I could drop by and see her while I was in her area, and she declined because her house wasn’t presentable.
Much like my grandmother, I don’t want people to see my home in any state other than “Magazine Perfect” – the term my mother used to distinguish whether she wanted me to merely clean my room – dust, vacuum, empty trash – or arrange it for the magazine photographers who were inevitably going to drop by unannounced to take pictures of our interior for Southern Living magazine – bed made, throw pillows and blankets strategically staged, frames placed on shelves by height and in odd numbered groupings, and stack of classic novels innocently gracing my desk…and of course I want it to appear effortless. (She never told me these were the things I had to do – I just created that as a definition.) As a kid, I preferred “magazine perfect” to cleaning. It involved throwing un-pretty things in my closet and desk drawers (’cause what kind of wackadoo photographer would take pictures of desk drawers???) and making things look pretty. Nowadays, I enjoy cleaning too, but I still – honest to God – have the thought in my head that a magazine photographer might show up on my doorstep, and By God I’d better be ready.
Like I said, this obsession isn’t ALL bad. I love living in a tidy house. I love the compliments from people who drop by. I love things looking nice. But most people really don’t care. I don’t get that, but they don’t. This probably goes back full circle to my Confidence post. I don’t feel like I judge other people if their houses are messy (I kinda do if they’re dirty), but I do find myself grateful that I live like I do, and I do expect to be judged.
Here’s what I need to focus on: Who do I feel like I need to make happy? The answer should be me and my family. It does take a regular cleaning and a regular picking-up to make me happy. It takes very little to make my family happy – I want them to care, but they just don’t. And I should see this as an opportunity for some freedom from stress…I’m going to try.
*voice in my head* I’m going to be SO mad if a magazine photographer really does show up on a day I’m practicing not caring. SO mad.
(in my head, that’s me below)
In 73 days, this family will make its annual pilgrimage back up to the holy land – known to others as Keuka Lake.
I hear all of the Finger Lakes are spectacular, but Keuka is the one where I’ve perched for two solid weeks of relaxation each of the past three years. My hott husband has been there almost every summer of his life. And last summer, it’s where we celebrated the 50th year of Maga’s Lake House and we were married on the dock in a perfect little gathering.
His family home there is warm and welcoming, its hosts are laid back and gracefully hospitable, the lake is cool and clear, and the people are friendly. But even if these things were not true, there’s something else extraordinary about this place…
They have a time-travel portal.
If you count their horses, the Amish might outnumber televisions, and they definitely outnumber air conditioners. You might find some of what you need at the little grocery store, but you still need to stop at the butcher’s, the Amish market, and the fruit stand. The summer days are long, the tables are large, and the windows are open.
But here’s my favorite part of the time travel there: kids get to be kids – without instructions or a plan or an itinerary or supervision, all day, all the while learning more than we could ever teach them. Our kids and the neighbor’s kids run all day – All. Day. – up and down from the lake to the woods and around again. They fish, build forts, make up games, swim, kayak, sail, paddle, run, run, run, did I mention they run? everywhere? When they’re hungry, they figure out how to eat while running. When someone gets hurt, they clean each other’s wounds. They celebrate the big catch together. They come up with creative things to make out of trash from the gully. At dinner, plates get clean, stories get relived, brothers don’t fight, and a good hard sleep comes easy. They strategize plans to most efficiently accomplish the assigned daily chores. You can’t make this stuff up! But they can. And they do. For four weeks straight. They learn more there without adult supervision than in all the time and money we adults (collectively) try to “invest” in their development. NOTHING is as important at their age as learning things for yourself. That is hard to find in the suburbs, my friends.
It seems like these days, if your kid turns out to be a self-sustaining adult, it almost has to be in spite of us, not because of us. My father-in-law dropped this wisdom on us a couple of years ago – “Don’t handicap your kids by making their lives easy.” But we do it every day.
My adult daughter is a walking reminder of this. It is abundantly apparent what aspects of her life I kept out of and gave her independence, and which aspects I stunted her growth by treating her like she couldn’t do it on her own (well, right, enough, etc.)
Challenge/Reminder: I am going to stop doing for the kids what they can do for themselves. Obviously, there are time constraints and bedtimes, but their ability-level is way higher than we give them credit for…and there’s a lot of things they should know how to do by this age, but they don’t – simply because we’ve never taught them.
So I might be the bad guy around here for a while, but in this whole step-parenting adventure, I’ve learned that my role is sometimes different than the parent – but just as important.
(Pretty sure it would be a big help if we do what we keep saying we’re going to do and cut off the cable…So many of these challenges are actually going to save us money – I’ve saved money on eating out, not drinking, not picking grout ((oops))…Feelin’ Pre-tee Good 🙂 )