Wednesday, June 26, 2013

To Teach or not to Teach?

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.

What changed?

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?


The Science Goddess said...

It won't help you with your decision, but I struggled with the same sort of thing for a long time. Yes, I loved working with the kids...I loved the creativity that came with teaching. But there was something very repetitive about living life by a calendar and bell, knowing that even if things were good, this was as good as they would ever be.

So I looked for ways to use my passions differently within the school system. I liked being able to teach half a day and coach or do district curriculum work for half a day. And then I took a full-time district job...and a state job. I worked on a doctorate. None of these are Utopia, I assure you. But what they did do is create some headspace to think about what I would like to do with whatever job I had/have. When you have a classroom, those kids (and their families) live in your head 24/7. A break from that, while still keeping close to a classroom, makes a huge difference...and, it lets you (a) build a much richer understanding of public ed (b) figure out where to next direct your passions and (c) have a life.

You'll have to find your own way, of course. But I am sure your district knows what a jewel you are. Talk to administrators you know and see what sort of ideas they have about other roles you could play. How do they see you keeping your love of school alive while being able to grow as a professional? Most importantly, think about what you would like to do...and start making some suggestions around the building or district.

Now, go play with your daughter, laugh with your husband, sleep late, and do whatever feels good. Enjoy being you for a bit and come back to thinking about the rest of this from that perspective. You have the answers.

Claire Kyzer said...

I understand your frustration with not just a lack of recognition in the workplace, but also a total denial that teachers have any need for a discussion about their professional goals. I really envy my friends in the business world who expect an annual sit down with the boss to discuss their progress, analyze their strengths and weaknesses, set goals for the next year, and (ha!) negotiate a pay rise. In almost every other workplace, job satisfaction is acknowledged and there is a structure in place to support and encourage. As teachers we are expected to just be happy going it alone, which works for a period of time, but at some point (ten years sound about right) you realize that this is it, you're never going to get the support you need, because this is as good as it gets.

So, you have to find your reinforcement and your professional recognition and your personal satisfaction somewhere else. Which means that I have no better advice than Science Goddess above. You already blog and develop your own professional interests. You already have these outlets and a space where you can showcase how much you care about what you do.

However, as my children have grown up each year, I have always said a prayer of thanks that I am a teacher. I was able to take a years's sabbatical when my second child was born. And then came right back to the same school where I had been teaching before. After my third child I did take a few years off work altogether, but when she was 2 I started a series of very satisfying education-related part time jobs, which gave me those precious hours at home with her, but also kept my résumé up and ticking. So when I was ready to go back to full-time work (about 5 years ago), I was able to land a great job.

So my conclusion is that by staying in education, I have almost been able to have it all. And I have kept my priorities straight. I get professional satisfaction from the work I do AND I have been able to be with my children. We each will find our own way to rationalize it, but you will find a way that works for you.

And I hope that when I become a principal, I will be able to give my teachers the professional support an feedback that they deserve. The profession needs it.

organized chaos said...

Science Goddess- I really appreciate your thoughts and your experience. The "head space" may be exactly what I'm looking for these days. The 24/7 life of the classroom can be overwhelming.

Claire- You hit the nail on the head with the professional goals. (Real professional goals, not the ones that we're suppose to create under the new evaluation system).
I appreciate your insights about staying in the education profession. It makes a lot of sense. Right now from where I'm standing education doesn't look like a good place to have a family. It seems to be developing into the type of job that only wants 20 somethings and once they get families and have other interests beyond staying in the classroom for 12 hours a day they want us as teachers to move on. But it's helpful to read this and be reminded that isn't how it is everywhere.

Claire Kyzer said...

Your point is well taken. I am not in your school or your district. I would recommend looking around. I taught in an urban magnet school for ten years and loved it - but the workload was overwhelming - and that was before I had children. When we moved, I turned down a great job at another magnet school because I knew I couldn't do it successfully and be a good mother to my two small children. So I took part-time jobs as adjunct faculty at my local university: teaching in their ESL institute, supervising student teachers in their alternative certification program, and working as an Early Literacy Teacher Trainer in urban daycares through a University grant. I also had my third child then.

When I returned to the teaching world it was as a 20 hour a week Title I K-2 Literacy and Math Interventionist in a small school with a Hugh ESL population. I really enjoyed it. But I didn't have any of the responsibilities of a classroom teacher

And then I got a full-time job in a local private school, which is a very different world.

So my advice is, before you leave teaching altogether, look around and see if there are other things you could do.

There are many of us out here who would sorely miss your inspirational voice.