With all the buzz surrounding back to school activities this week, I have to be honest and say that there is a certain nostalgia felt in the month of August when one is no longer a teacher. True, there are things that will never be missed. For example, the muscle pain that invades your body after the first day of teaching Kindergarten, a pain that can rival fibromyalgia. Nor will I miss parents grunting below their breaths knowing full well a teacher is walking behind them, “why do teachers need so many supplies, this stuff is so expensive!” The debate that follows in your mind, “should I turn around and explain that the education system does not account for the price it costs to make my classroom functional and their child motivated, and because I am neither provided with the resources nor the salary to be able to afford it, I have to begrudgingly ask parents for it? Or, should I smile and nod?” I will not miss the fact that since it is the first day, I just smile and nod, and feel like a smaller lesser human being for it. That, I will not miss.
However, there is a certain melancholy felt on the first day one is not a teacher, an unexplainable longing. I feel nostalgic for the bulletin boards I did not make, the lessons I did not plan, and the smiles I couldn’t bring to the faces of eager, naïve children. I miss the smell of a hundred freshly sharpened pencils, the warmth radiated by a copy machine that has been running for days, and the sweet release of a school bell sounding off at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. You’ve never felt repressed expectation in your soul until you’ve taught and waited on the dismissal bell. Few things feel as liberating as that sound saturating an entire building and simultaneously stirring cheer, and conversations, and laughter, and hope.
So how, exactly, does one turn their back on such mundane blissful moments? How can you avoid becoming yet another statistic in the pool of teachers who quit before their third year, their fifth year? The following is a list weaknesses you may be tempted to fall into, the list of essential don’ts. As a teacher who left the classroom after her fifth year, it is with experience that I share the very steps leading to my demise with the sincere hope that if I can save just one teacher, I can gain some sort of redemption.
- Do not allow yourself to develop any sort of social life outside of the school. What’s the same, don’t have children, don’t get married, and don’t make friends. They won’t be able to understand why you are clocking out late on a Friday night, and you will never really be able to explain it to them. If you do manage to make time for friends or family, chances are you will be so utterly consumed by your worry for your students that you will not be able to control revolving your conversations around them. I guarantee you, your friends will quickly tire out of this and begin to avoid you. Instead, avoid the sour emotions altogether, and just don’t cultivate any relationships whatsoever.
- Do not clock out late on a Friday night (see above). In fact, don’t care about your job so much that you accept any responsibilities outside of your contractual hours. If you do, you will harbor so much resentment that your heart will have no choice but to explode and betray you in a mixture of overwhelming frustration. Usually, it is your heart that tires out before your body does, and resentment only speeds up the tiring process.
- Do not equate accolades with self- Teaching often goes un-rewarded. In one day you might get called in to the office to explain why your data does not meet your principal’s expectations, a parent will question your methods, a child will spit in your face, and one of your very own peers will question your integrity. If we did it for the praise or even recognition- we’d all throw in the towel before the fight even began. Very rarely will you find co-workers that will invest their time and efforts into your success inside and outside of the classroom. Every now and then, you will be assigned students so bright, they surpass even your highest expectations and bring you enough honor to build a reputation around. But, almost never will you have a principal so thankful she will take the entire staff on a trip to the Bahamas. Moments like those are so few that they are overshadowed by the rest. If you wait for them, you will find yourself bitter and angry. And, before you know it, in a bout of rage you will find yourself threatening to walk out. Usually, the first times you do this, it’s a bluff. You never mean it. But repeat the same lie enough times, you’ll start to believe it.
- Do not find a passion that fulfills you even half as much as teaching. A divided house cannot stand against itself. Well, when that house is you and the division is inside your heart, eventually something will give. Chances are it will be the thing that makes you cry. And as a teacher, you cry. When your students’ come from abandonment and abuse, you cry. When you try your best, and they still aren’t learning but you don’t know why, you cry. When you try to advocate for them at the top of your lungs to no avail, you cry. You try to protect them from so much, you become afraid. And when the fear consumes you, you cry. So, if you so happen to find something outside of it, something that makes you feel passionate again, and that thing doesn’t bring you to tears; chances are, in the struggle between joy and pain, joy will win. You give in to the less painful choice, out of comfort. That is when you quit.
I know, that list seems impossibly inescapable. If so, that means that leaving the classroom is an eventuality we’re all headed for. Sooner or later, we break, as humans we give in to one of the four weaknesses mentioned above. What then? And, what I have yet to resolve is, what makes the difference between the statistical five year drop-outs and the career educators?
When you find one, let me know.