A Year Without Teaching
Signs that school has started are abundant everywhere. Walking into Target yesterday I saw several colorful notebooks and school supplies. My heart leapt, until I saw Star Wars school supplies and was reminded of my former students. You see, the 2017-2018 school year marks the first year that I haven’t been in a classroom. For the past eight years I have worked as a substitute teacher, teaching assistant and a teacher (for the last three years). It’s a strange, surreal feeling and I don’t want to go back.
I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in fourth grade. I distinctly remember my fourth grade teacher Mrs.P ask me that when she met me on parent/teacher night before school. I stood by that statement throughout most of my school, though in high school I had my doubts and thought about being a graphic designer or translator. I would solidify my decision to be a teacher after taking a couple classes at a community college before transferring to a 4 year college.
From the beginning of my time at a 4-year college, I worked on building experience and gathering resources. I worked as a tutor, did volunteer work with local organizations, babysat and began buying things for my future classroom. During the fall of my junior year, I began working as a substitute teacher on my off days and when college let out. Let me tell you, subbing gave me more experience than most of my classes!
After a year of subbing after graduating college to get a job as a Teaching Assistant in a Special Education classroom. I did it for three years before accepting a job as a Special Education Teacher. I worked as a Special Education Teacher for 3 years until I was laid off a month ago, in the middle of summer. It wasn’t the type of letter you want to receive after cancelling a weekend in Philly and being bedridden due to food poisoning.
I was more upset about losing a job than losing my job as a teacher.
There is a huge need for Special Education Teachers in the United States. According to friends who have taught abroad or done training, the need is also present in other countries as well. If I wanted another classroom teaching job, I would have little difficulty getting a position, but I don’t want to teach again, not in the foreseeable future at least.
Teaching is a very difficult job, but rewarding. I didn’t mind the long hours at first because I knew I was making a difference in the lives of my students. Then, unrealistic expectations were placed on me and I found myself working 60 hour work weeks or more with little time to myself. I felt unappreciated and I was unsupported, even attacked on a personal level.
I was working in an intercity school and the behaviors were high (I was called everything in the book and then some). Despite giving it my all, despite doing everything right, I couldn’t keep up with the expectations that forced me to stay up until 11pm and work on weekends. My mental health took a downward spiral as a result.
BUT! My students were learning and were engaged by what they were learning, I loved making lesson plans and teaching. My students made progress in many ways and students in other classrooms wanted to be in my class! At what cost though? I cannot think about teaching without feeling anxious, what does that say?
Returning to our scene at Target, I turn to my friend who is with me. Like me, she is a former teacher. Both of us burned out by unrealistic expectations and criticism for things that we cannot control. She’s not the only teacher I know who quit teaching or was laid off this past year who at one time was a highly respected who was frequently praised.
There is a growing number of us in the United States. Teachers who have no desire to teach again, who want to go into a different profession. The current rate for new teachers to quit teaching in 5 years is 50%. 50%! Some do remain in education, just not as teachers, such as myself. Others are in education, but trying desperately to find a new career.
When I think about the anxiety, long nights, unrealistic expectations and impact on my mental health, I breath a sigh of relief. I have reached many students in profound ways and still have parents contact me, saying they wish I was still their child’s teacher or worked with them. It makes everything worth it.
I miss buying things for my classroom and students, but I’m ready for my next career, the next avenue I can take to change the world.
© 2017 Alexis