Note: Below is a very personal article about some struggles that I’m having as a public High School teacher. If you don’t teach High School this will probably not be interesting at all. Stop back later for our regularly scheduled programming.
I am contemplating some huge life changes. Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I found myself doing a newly familiar Google search: “teaching sucks.” Hilarious because a lot comes up. Turns out that teaching public school is incredibly grueling, barely rewarding, and stressful beyond belief.
When I worked at a corporate job years ago (why did I ever leave) we had personality profile tests that we had to complete. It was fun actually, my chatty office bestie had to socialize to be productive, others have to innovate and experiment in a safe environment, and I, I have to be right. Sounds strange, but basically what the profile said was that I have to know exactly what my job is and I have to be able to execute is perfectly every time, otherwise I get recalcitrant. It’s completely accurate. My house is a mess, but at work, I’m an organized, obsessive perfectionist.
When you teach public school (any maybe this is only for Florida, which is as specific as I’m going to get for fear of retaliation) you have no real, specific things to do and no perfect, accurate way to execute it. “Do a Marzano scale board configuration,” they say three days before students return after a summer of silence, not giving us an example. “Do we add it to our standard board configuration and essential questions?” “Yes.” Except I have three different class preps that each needs two dry erase boards full of space, I only have two boards, and it has to change at least weekly? Only I have about 20 minutes before work to work, during which kids want to socialize, and 30 after work, during which kids want to socialize, so I have about zero minutes a day to change my board. Is my board right? Is it wrong? Someone came in, photographed it, and left silently. What is that? I can’t care about something I can’t do right, but I’m not apathetic, I’m pissed.
I have a million examples now that this is my third year of teaching, but here are the greatest hits of “why I can’t do this anymore”:
1. I was hired to teach Advanced Placement, but then down graded at the last moment to all regular classes (with one period of an elective they use as a dumping ground). When I asked to get Honors over the summer my vice principal said no way, because I can’t control a class (full of drug dealers). You have to earn Honors, they don’t give a fart in the wind about actually educated people teaching the higher level classes. At all.
2. I don’t like teaching violent, profanity filled drug dealers and parolees. It sucks. Those kids are mean and horrible. They actually make fun of my appearance knowing that, if I write referrals to the office, it just looks like I can’t control a classroom. I have been directly told this by administration. No Child Left Behind means that no child is left behind. This includes violent offenders, sitting next to your angel with an ankle bracelet on. “What’d you do?” I ask. “Oh, beat a girl’s face in.” Great. I get at least two of these kids a year and you cannot discipline them in a normal way, you have to play nice, because, you know, they went to jail for armed robbery so … yeah.
3. I did TTT (Transition to Teaching) which forced me to put my Master’s degree on hold because the classes were in immediate conflict. All this extra work, on top of mandatory payroll deductions, my first year teaching almost killed me (not literally, spiritually?). On top of that I’m now behind on getting my mandatory ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) endorsement which means I have to take three 60 hour online classes before the year’s up … while finishing my MA … so I can be forced to teach ESOL students that I haven’t actually been prepared to help in any way. Oh and then spend $75 to have it added to my certification, which is mandatory, just to add a little insult to injury. That’s totally do-able.
4. If you struggle and actually ask for help you’re just stigmatized and told to “get more training” in your free time, after school, without pay, and it doesn’t help at all. Looks great on paper though. They told me to “get more training” so I’m obviously incompetent.
5. People hate teachers. I can tell the MA and PhD students in my class think I’m a moron because I teach High School. I’m not a moron. Well, maybe I am, I do teach, but I have book smarts, I promise.
Long story short I love teaching, but I hate being a High School teacher. I love lesson planning, I love grading, I love the research that comes with it. Actually delivering a lesson to a bunch of kids who, no lie, tried to show me a video of a cat being killed because they like upsetting me: no thanks. That on top of knowing that I, without tenure on the horizon, will be a dumping ground for “regular” classes (read: dangerous, impossible to control classes) for God knows how long? I just don’t want it anymore. My Google search was right: teaching (public school) sucks.
Now I’m looking forward to finishing my MA, adjudicating at a community college, applying to PhD programs, and getting on with my life. What I’m trying to figure out is when and how I can make this happen. Do I leave now? Do I focus all my attention on my business? What if I fail? Have I screwed up my chance at having a creative career? I come home (yes at 2:30 pm) so exhausted I usually fall asleep or sit in a vegetative state in front of the TV for hours while trying to do the hundreds of pages of assigned reading per week I have for my single graduate school class. If you read my blog over the summer you know how productive I can be, but not during the school year.
I don’t know if this will be my last year or my last month or my last week teaching High School, but I do know I want it to end. Do you know the only thing I will miss about High School teaching? Being a social worker. The hardest part of teaching for most people is that you are basically a social worker, but you have no training. The kids confide in me because I have had a dark, ugly, violent, difficult life, and I came out on the other side loving candy and unicorns and hugs. So they trust me with with darkest secrets, because I’ve been there, and those are the kids who I don’t want to leave. I have to though, because since I’ve had a dark, ugly, violent, difficult life, I’m not equipped to handle kids who come in high and threaten me, or make fun or how I look, or try to bully me into doing assignments for them (ie: they want me to stop teaching and sit next to them and do all the work for them because they were absent and meanwhile the other 24 kids in the class run wild and I get in trouble, like always, and if I don’t do this they will make sure I have hell to pay). I’m not saying I don’t want to handle them, I’m not saying I don’t know how to handle them, I’m saying I can’t. I cannot handle them. I am not equipped to.
Do I quit teaching today? Tomorrow? Can boyfriend and I afford it? Can my sanity take it? I don’t know. In fact, I’m worried that I shouldn’t publish this because I’ll be retaliated against professionally (here’s a note saying this is my opinion, just in case). But, fellow teachers, you need to read this. Because when I Google “teaching sucks” it’s because I just want to know that I’m not alone. You’re not alone.