The hardest thing

It’s hard for me to admit this but…..I’m a statistic.

Three years ago my wife and I moved out of state and we made the decision that I would stay at home with the kids. Just like that, my teaching days were over, so to speak. I had worked in a very strong district for 13 years and had come to define myself as an educator (I still do). That being said, the decision to walk away from the classroom was in many ways the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I still consult with teachers and help them learn about using Google Earth and Google Maps as part of their instruction. But, I also feel like my experience leaving the classroom encapsulates why good teachers are leaving the profession.

If you were wondering, all of the things that you hear teachers complain at dinner parties and out at the bar when your one teacher friend who came out for one drink at 7:30pm but left at 9:00 because they had to ‘prep for tomorrow”…are all true.

We are always short on supplies. We always find ourselves falling asleep at the kitchen table grading papers at 2am on a Saturday night (I’m fairly sure my wife has photographic evidence of this). We plan and conceptualize lessons when on vacation with our family. We get into arguments with our significant others because we have to attend a school play, recital, concert, or sporting event because we have one student “who just needs a little extra support.” We don’t have time to pee, grade, plan, or even get through the standards for our curriculum because the school day is constantly being interrupted by an assembly, a play, a fire drill, a half-day, a snow day, a happy student wanting to tell your something, a crying student needing to tell you something… the list really does go on and on.

But we also really truly love what we do. The “ah-ha!” moments that each of our students get when they figured out an especially difficult concept. The laughter and community that each one of our classes creates. Every class has its’ own personality and special moments that only those kids will be a part of. The smile at the end of each year when that one student who you didn’t think you were going to reach but that smile tells you you actually did. The kids who line up early outside your classroom and always ask you “What are we doing today?” with grins a mile wide on their faces. Letters from former students that are kept in a shoebox in your desk that when you have a bad day, you can take out and be moved to tears of joy for what you do.

I would wake up every. single. morning. and look at the reflection staring back at me in the mirror and ask “They pay me to go and do this?” Yes they did.

The reality though is that it just wasn’t enough. The pay is just not enough to balance the life I need to maintain with my wife and children. “Oh you get summers off, though!”… I don’t have enough time to go into just how false and disingenuous that statement is. I never had summers off. Either the second job, summer school classes to teach, classes to maintain my certification, summer meetings with parents of incoming students to create an individualized plan of instruction for students who learn differently would all conspire to have me in my classroom in mid-July to revamp curriculum and plan for the upcoming year. This job is not for the weak minded. To be really good at this profession it takes 75+ hours of hard work each and every week. You also have to be able to reconcile that you will only be paid for 36 of those hours, for 10 months of the year. How many jobs do you know of that you are only paid for half of the time you work?

I sometimes feel like a failure for leaving. I sometimes feel like I let my former students down. They were really upset that I wasn’t going to be teaching after I moved. I often dream about working in a classroom again and experiencing all the moments that bring me joy and fulfillment. I hope I will.
I will.

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3 thoughts on “The hardest thing

  1. Pete – thank you for sharing your journey and decisions that you have made regarding your family and career decisions. To me you are a natural educator and no matter where you are or what your doing we’ll be teaching and supporting others.

    Last year I quit due to a toxic situation that I felt wasn’t going to get better (District wide but my successful teachers as leaders school became a prime target) and saw that students were being affected. I had never quit anything in life and it was a hard decision. I too still myself as a teacher and miss (yes) students and the crazy days, nights and weekends I devoted to my job but I now know my family suffered. Although they never complained and supported me 100% I’ve learned that they worried about me, they missed me when I was gone and that I often took my frustrations from school out on them. We must take care of ourselves and our families first. I don’t regret anything and am working on many projects and appreciate that my PLN and fellow teachers still support and tolerant my passion for education, history, geography & human rights!

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  2. So true, Pete.

    I often think of walking away for the same reasons. Some of those reasons are also what engages me, however.

    If did leave the classroom, it would be to get away from the things that only teachers experience. The days when your emotions are taxed to the max over student needs and adults are emailing over every little annoyance. Pile that on top of deadlines for evaluations, grades, projects implemented by administrators and the recipe for freak out is cooking. Most people never see that, which adds another layer of stress – few people understand.

    I guess that’s why we have a PLN. To grow with people who understand.

    – Kevin

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