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Reflections On My Career In Education

I read an article called “Are Teachers Ok? No, and Toxic Positivity Isn’t Helping” by Julie Mason ( Reading this article hit me in the gut emotionally and I commend the author for being so transparent and honest about her experiences. What hit me the hardest was the last line:

“The truth is I saw teaching as a calling, not a job. You can care about your kids and love teaching and still leave school when school ends. If I had, I might still be teaching.”

The author, Julie Mason, is no longer teaching. The author of this blog post, Vanessa Forisha, is no longer teaching either. It made me wonder whether Mason would have shared her opinion if she still was. I could tell you right now, if I was still working in education, whether it be in leadership or in the classroom, I would still be approaching work with a beaming smile on my face, a solutions-oriented positive attitude, and I would be crying too many days driving home to my second “job” of mommy to two little girls. I would never have started a blog or shared my thoughts and opinions about any topic, especially anything that could be construed as controversial in fear of displeasing someone. I would not be sharing these thoughts with whoever may be reading this, but nothing frees the tongue more than knowing that you won’t be coming back.

What made me leave, first and foremost, was my daughter Maggie’s diagnosis of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, in addition to her co-morbidities that make her future uncertain without a barrage of early interventions. What made it possible financially-speaking for me to leave was my husband’s opportunity that enables us to live on a single income. What also made me decide to not come back was recognizing that day after day, I would come home after spending all of my physical, mental, and emotional energy at work and have absolutely nothing left inside of me for my children, my husband, and especially for myself.

I believe that nearly anyone who has worked closely with me over the years knows my work ethic. I am the type of person who will get to work early, stay late, plan the year out during the summers, rally the team, and try to bridge different groups like teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders. I have students that I love that still reach out to me to this day and share how I’ve impacted their lives and it makes me feel so validated, because all of my efforts have been for them first and foremost. Passion was never my problem. Boundaries and self-advocacy was the problem.

My last year was rough. I was in a hybrid role in campus leadership: part teacher, part campus instructional coach for 8th grade ELAR, part curriculum developer, and part whatever was needed. I had began my Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy and envisioned myself becoming a principal one day. I believe that people who go into education do so because it is indeed a calling. In nine years of education experience, I have never once met anyone who said they got into it because of summers off or any other ridiculous motivator. Teaching is a hard job that is full of emotional heartache because you want so badly to help your students learn.

A typical day would begin at 4-something in the morning, usually to the cries of my infant (at the time) Hazel. I would breastfeed her, then around 5, my other daughter Maggie would wake up. I’d make coffee, take a shower while the girls crawled over “daddy mountain,” pack up lunches for everyone, and drop the girls off at daycare when it opened at 6:30 a.m. I’d drive 45 minutes to work, usually listening to a book or music. My commute to and fro became the only time that I truly had to myself. I’d get to work and immediately work on whatever I needed to do. It could be lesson plans, instructional pacing calendars, data reports, whatever. I’d work at the binder station, my morning duty spot. When the kids would come in, they’d go through metal detectors and if they failed to bring their school-wide binders, they’d be escorted to me so I can log their names and give them a binder pass. Even though I was just doing my job, most mornings would start with me getting cussed out, repeatedly, by multiple students.

Quick side note on that: I don’t think anyone should have to take verbal abuse from students. It’s not okay. That happens way too often in too many schools around the country and it becomes an acceptable part of campus culture in the name of culturally responsive teaching. I accepted this, perhaps because I didn’t want to rock the boat and I had ambitions of moving up the career ladder so I didn’t want to give the impression that I couldn’t handle the binder station. In the future, wherever I may go, I will not accept hostility and blatant disrespect from students, period.

After the binder station, I’d have my first class, which wouldn’t go so well. I was supposed to have the “model” classroom, the one that went perfectly smooth. I felt an extraordinary amount of pressure, most of it self directed. For the first time since I was no longer a novice teacher, I struggled with classroom management. I struggled to keep kids engaged. Students were allowed to have cell phones in school, a policy I vehemently oppose, and regardless of whatever strategies I did, I could not compete with social media, video games, or texting. Any discipline on my part to address cell phones created a wall of animosity and refusal to work that would be nearly impossible to break through within a class period.

Another side soap box: NOTHING will improve student performance more than banning cell phones from schools. Most adults do not have the discipline to manage their own technology. Teenagers and children definitely do not have that discipline. Many social problems such as bullying could be reduced by banning cell phones on school property. If this is left to teachers individually to deal with in their own classrooms, this can create a barrier to the relationship building that fosters an educational environment.

The rest of the day would be a blur of meetings, classroom observations, lunch duty, and work, so much work. I’d have my calendars planned in advanced, printed on my clipboard, always in my hand, but everyday would feel like a colossal blur. If I had a window of time, I’d work on the next deadline, but most of my time during the school day would be spent in meetings, both on and off campus. At the end of the day, at least on days that I didn’t have after school meetings, I’d drive home for over an hour. After school traffic was always heavier. If not, I’d have my after school meeting, then drive home. I’d usually spend the first chunk of my commute in silence, trying to process in my mind the growing number of action items on my to do list. I’d get to daycare, pick up my daughters, go home, make dinner, play with them, snuggle them, and rock them to sleep. When they were both down some time between 7 to 8, I’d pick up my laptop and continue to work, usually until close to midnight, then go to sleep.

It always felt like no matter how fast or how hard I was working, there would be more to do. Every day felt like Groundhog Day. I struggled internally with anxiety and would have nightmares of looming deadlines, horrific classroom observations, and being called out as a failure. My inner voice did that for me, goading me to do more, to be better. It wasn’t my administrative team. They were wonderful and they did their best. It wasn’t the district, either. I came to realize as I struggled that everyone, from teachers to administrators to district leaders, they all came in with the best intentions in mind. The biggest pressure I felt came from myself, from perfectionistic tendencies that I still struggle with daily.

For teachers, the biggest challenge is time, or lack thereof. So much of teaching takes time. There’s time to reflect about what went right and what went wrong in a lesson. There’s time to grade and give feedback to students. There’s time to build relationships with students. There’s time to build relationships and support with colleagues. There’s time to consider what would work best per class, per student, per assignment, per whatever. There’s time to actually complete deliverables. For introverts like myself, time is even more precious. Teachers can have the best of intentions, but if there isn’t time to fine tune, if every day feels like a colossal blur, if every single day feels like pouring buckets of water out of a sinking Titanic, that is simply not sustainable.

I know this year is challenging in ways that are so outside of the norm. I’m not in the trenches, but perhaps my role as an outsider is to give voice to those who can’t say these things in fear of workplace retribution. Perhaps the best advice I can give to those of you that are drowning is to say put down the bucket and ride the current. Go home and enjoy your family. Spend your weekends doing whatever brings you joy, whether that be binge watching a show, going on a hike, baking beautiful cakes, or whatever it may be. Take time for you. If your cup is empty, chronically empty, you will struggle giving your best to those that matter most. Fill your cup. Do what you can, then just breathe. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but everything that’s going on now can’t continue for the long haul. This too shall pass, eventually.



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