When Doing the Right Thing Feels Like an Act of Rebellion…

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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?

Nope.

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.

-Angie Ruth

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