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Education Disillusion

Updated on October 28, 2008

Being worn down and burned out by the teaching profession

When I was a little boy, among the things I did to pass the time was to play school in my bedroom.

With Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang as my students (I was an absolute Peanuts freak), I would pretend to be a teacher; calling roll, giving lessons, the works.

Fast forward a few years: As I grew older and saw my mother and many of my relatives enter the field of education and the teaching profession, and be successful at it, the combination of that and the fact that I've always been attracted to the school atmosphere made education and a career influencing young minds appeal to me that much more. I found myself planning to join the family business.

There were other reasons why I wanted to work in schools:

1. Teaching, being with, and being a leader of kids sounded like a fun way to make money.

2. The school schedule - working weekdays, with weekends off. I always liked that kind of schedule as a kid, and I saw no reason to change that as a working adult.

3. Having two and a half months off in the summer. Again, I loved having that time off as a youngster, and saw no reason why it could not continue.

After over fifteen years working as a tutor, a noon plpayground aide, a coach, an after school leader, and a physical education teacher, and after having quite a few bad experiences and episodes with different kids, parents, supervisors, and principals, never lasting more than three years at any one school, I ultimately realized that I was not meant to work with children in education.

After years in the field, working as hard as I could, even entering a program to get my master's degree in education and a teaching credential - and doing very well in the classes to boot - I found myself disillusioned with the whole thing. That's the best way to describe it.

Several factors contributed to my feeling this way in this profession, and eventually giving it up...

First, the students I worked with that had bad behavior and attitude problems, combined with a lack of respect, wore me down and burned me out to the point that I simply could not deal with it - and them - anymore.

Over the years while working at different schools, I have been viciously cursed at, called bad names, and nastily talked back to on many occasions. I even had money stolen from me - and it wasn't even my money!

It was at a school in Los Angeles where I worked as a cafeteria clerk in the mid 1990's. I sorted out applications for free and reduced meals, worked the cash register at lunch, and distributed lunch tickets.

One day after lunch I went back to my little office to count up the day's free lunch tickets and money, when I found that the cash from that morning's reduced and full-price ticket sales were missing. Although it was partially my fault, since I did not lock the office door prior to lunch, it alarmed and angered me to no end.

Later that afternoon another kid came up to me and told me that a girl had snuck into my office and took the money out of my desk. I told the assistant principal, who suspended the thief and got the money back. It had ended well, but this particular incident contributed to my eventually getting fed up with that school.

Along with the behavior problems, I found that I did not have enough patience to be effective with certain sections of the student population. I found myself teaching and working with kids that I did not want to teach or work with, wishing that I could pick and choose the children with whom I did want to interact.

Certainly those students with behavior problems and bad attitudes, who mouthed off, cursed, and showed no respect or consideration led me to the point where I dreaded even seeing them, let alone working wth them. But I also dreaded those spoiled kids who whined, complained and bitched whenever they did not get their way. I got fed up with them, too.

These wayward children at some of the schools where I worked would have been more bearable for me to deal with, if it were not for the fact that there were at least three schools I was at where I felt the principal didn't give enough support when it came to dealing with certain situations the way I felt they needed to be dealt with. These were people who, because they wanted to be "sensitive to the kids' needs" and because "these are just kids" (I've always HATED that phrase), would let the problem youngsters get away with almost murder.

There was one elementary school near my home, where I taught physical education for three years. The third year I was there, a new principal arrived who was clearly soft on discipline. During that year there were about 15 fourth graders whose behavior made life at that place a near hell, because this principal didn't deal with those troublemakers they way they needed to be dealt with. One day one of those problem kids slammed another kid down on the playground asphalt by the tetherball poles during recess, knocking him out cold.

You may think, surely he was suspended, right? Nope - he was back in school the next day and got off virtually scott-free. It was only when another troblemaker sexually harassed a girl that this principal finally used her suspension powers.

These episodes, along with others I was told of such as a student escaping expulsion after he threw a chair at his teacher because his mother sobbed for mercy to the school board, or a teacher somehow getting in trouble with her principal when she sent a student to the office for giving her the middle finger, showed me that teachers and staff were peons with very little power, especially aides and non-credentialed staff. That almost anything can be done to them and there would be a good chance that the child would go unpunished.

The absolute last straw for me in education came about a year ago. I was hired as an after school teacher at an inner city school - which shall remain nameless.

I was assigned to a group of fourth and fifth graders for the mandatory homework hour, where the kids would do their assignments and I would help them. Since the school was roughly 85 to 90% black, I was looking forward to being a good African American role model for those kids.

Once again, disillusion reared its ugly head...

After a week, I felt like I was in hell. A large number of those children, particularly a group of about seven 5th grade girls (as well as a few boys), were the most disrespectful, lying, big-mouthed smart mouths I had ever worked with. This is going back around twenty years, so that is saying something.

Still, the experience was tolerable until early January, when the program coordinator, who was tough, no-nonsense, supportive, and had allowed me to get as tough as I needed to deal with those youngsters, suddenly quit and was replaced by two people who I knew wouldn't allow such. Who I knew would want me to be like Barney The Dinosaur in my interactions with them.

After a lecture from her assistant on how badly I was treating some of the kids, and a near-nervous breakdown from me, I submitted my resignation not only from that program, but from the field of education. I had finally had enough.

One may think, while reading this, that I was a victim of tyrannical circumstances. That is not completely true, however.

Quite a bit of my non-success in working with children was my fault, in the sense that I had a hard time blindly taking orders from different people and getting along with certain co-workers and higher-ups.

I could never truly understand that in working with kids, and in most other lines of work, you are paid to do as you are told and to make everyone around you happy - kids, parents, and supervisors alike. This was due to the fact that I have Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that negatively affects social interaction, which partly (in my case) involves an aversion to being ordered around and trying to please everybody.

The one fundamental thing that I learned about myself through this field was that I worked best under minimal supervision and interference. Where I can be left alone and just do my job the best way I know how. If I was working with someone, I was most effective when that someone treated me like a complete equal, even if they were my superior on paper.

Unfortunately for me, most of my school jobs weren't like that.

By the time I arrived at that inner city school, I was absolutely sick and tired of worrying about what kids, parents, co-workers, and supervisors thought of me. I was fed up with the notion of my job security depending on so many people. Trying to please everyone, and the periodic evaluations which were really an excuse for the boss to tell me how bad I was, caused anxiety, and I grew sick and tried of that, too.

What was so disillusioning was that - silly, naive me - I thought that teaching and working with kids would be like what I saw on TV shows like "Head Of The Class" from the 1980's and "Room 222" from the 1970's, where the teacher is beloved and in the case of "Head Of The Class", where all of the students were bright and soaked up the teacher's lessons.

I had no idea that there would be a glut of in-service meetings that to me were nothing but a big waste of time. I didn't know that you had to take about five different exams, which you had to pay for out of your own pocket, in order to even be considered for teaching. I knew nothing of the notion that new teachers usually ended up at the worst schools with the worst kids (check out the movie "187" with Samuel L. Jackson sometime) - schools that nobody else wants to work at with kids that no one else wants, who either don't want to learn or are too tough to teach, too far gone for anyone to make a real effect.

I know it sounds to some that I am lazy. That I'm just being a spoiled quitter who couldn't hack it or cut the mustard.

What it comes down to, however, is the fact that the education field and working with youngsters is too ill a fit for my personality. By the end I felt like I was a waiter in a restaurant or a parking valet, catering to everyone's whim. Or a glorified babysitter or a nanny. Or a servant.

I need to make clear that this is NOT a diatribe against the teaching profession or education in general. It is absolutely not my intention to bash this field. How could I be against a line of work that so many of my loved ones have been involved in for decades?

Indeed, working with children and the molding and shaping of young minds is one of the noblest things a person can do, something that I have the utmost respect for.

It is just that after over fifteen years of trying to succeed in the education business, I realize that my talents, personality, and personal chemistry are better suited to something where I can mostly be left alone to do my thing.

Unfortunaltely, working with kids does not fit that bill, which ultimately means that it's not for me.

While it is disillusioning, and I do feel some bitterness (sometimes quite a fair amount of bitterness), in the long run it really is for the best. Not being in the "kid business" leaves me free to pursue something that would be more fufilling for me and my personality, which is all anyone truly wants out of a career.


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