Since about April I've been struggling with the question of whether or not to keep teaching. Around spring break I came to this realization that I wasn't sure what I was doing anymore.
In the past I loved my job. I was proud to say I was a teacher, and would scoff at people who talked to me condescendingly about my "cute" job. I was in this for kids, and what's more, I was exceptionally happy doing it. Everyday on the way home I'd think about my day and send a silent prayer to God thanking Him for blessing me with a job I loved. I felt lucky to be in this career, lucky to work with the children I worked with, and lucky to be able to help teach children to read. I was proud.
I'm not sure what changed. Going back over old blog posts from this year I can slowly watch the transformation. The year started with some "I love my job" posts, but towards the end they were few and far between. It's been the slow death of a dream.
Is it me? In April I realized it's been TEN years. I've spent ten years perfecting my craft. I like to think that I'm good at this job. I am extremely dedicated to being good at this job. I read books, take classes, reflect, blog, analyze, research, and put in long hours to do the best I can at this job. In ten years I've learned so much. I'm a much better teacher than I was ending my first year teaching ten years ago.
And yet, I have the same job that anyone right out of college could have. Although I've personally made huge gains professionally none of those really matter. I hold the same job 22 year olds are qualified for. We have the same voice, are treated the same professionally, and are considered the same in the eyes of the school district. For that matter, we're treated the same in the eyes of society. Or maybe not. Maybe the 22 year old is given more respect because there is still time for her to get out. This isn't her career yet- it's just a stopping place.
The realization that despite the work I've done I haven't actually gone anywhere was humbling and shocking. What am I doing? I wondered. Why work so hard? Why be so dedicated? Before I was a mother it wasn't even a question. Hours and hours after school was worth it. But now? I love working hard, but I realize that hard work- and I'm talking about the hours late into the night, the hours on the weekend, the checking and responding to emails while my daughter plays- seems pointless. Now I'm taking away from family time but where am I going? I'm treading water, and exhausting myself doing so, for what? To continue to hold a job I could have been hired for at 22, and could keep until I was 65.
This took me to job search engines, hoping, perhaps that I'd find jobs that my ten years would justify. I didn't even want to apply for these jobs, I just wanted to know that somewhere out there my ten years of experience meant something.
What I found was that there seem to be few jobs out there that want a former teacher. If jobs do want someone with teaching experience they seem to want a 20 something- at least 3 years of classroom experience. If I apply for those jobs I'll be competing against 20 somethings who will work for less. Twenty somethings without families.
Has my ten year dedication and love for my job backed me into a corner? Is this the meaning of teacher burn out?
Or is it the job?
In ten years of teaching I've seen the profession change. When I started teaching I was a first grade classroom teacher. The same curriculum, same lessons and activities we used in first grade then are not being used in kindergarten. The kids haven't changed, so why has our expectations for them changed?
I've spent ten years doing research, analyzing kids, reading books, being coached, and truly trying to understand child development and how children learn so I can apply it in the classroom. And for awhile we were asked to be professionals and apply our knowledge to our teaching. But that too seems to have changed. What we know is best for kids- what we know about how kids learn, how to teach, how to analyze children's mistakes to use as teaching points, anything that made the job a place for an intelligent professional seems to no longer be respected or wanted. I loved the job when it asked me to watch children learn to read as a scientist- analyzing and making decisions to produce a better reader. That no longer seems to be what we're asked to do. And I don't know if I want to be a part of that anymore.
Where do I go next?
Last year I decided I was not going to finish my doctorate program because I couldn't have a family, teach full time, and get my doctorate- and I wasn't ready to be out of the classroom. Now that I'm ready to go full time for my doctorate my GREs are expired. Am I going to spend the summer studying? (I'm trying, I really am.)
I want to love my job again. But I also want the profession to be different. I don't want to wake up at 50 feeling absolutely stuck in a job that doesn't respect me despite the years of work I've put into it. Why is our profession like this? What has happened to teaching? When is the pendulum swinging back?