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.