Mar 5, 2011

When the Lights Go Out

Image Credit: Flickr/Joriel "Joz" Jimenez

I came across a blog post from the Daily Kos in my Google Reader feed. It was entitled I Don't Want to be a Teacher Any More by writer thalli1, a veteran teacher who recently came to the realization that ever-dwindling resources coupled with ever-growing prescribed curriculum mandates and job duties just don't make teaching worth it anymore for her. She describes in detail the challenges that teachers face each day and says, "then one Thursday, on the eighth day of my 35th year of teaching, I suddenly thought for the very first time ever, 'I don’t want to be a teacher anymore.'  It’s so weird how it just came over me like that."

This post struck a chord with a lot of people. I've read countless blog posts and articles about teachers who are fed up with the current state of education and those most fed up are the ones most affected by thalli1's post. It also struck a chord with me, but for different reasons.

I work in an alternative high school program where the vast majority of my students  come from situations of poverty. Our program has rarely had the budget to cover more than salaries. We've never had up-to-date (or even enough) technology, never had a custodian who works even half-time, and never had a majority of kids come to school well-fed and well-supported. It has always been part of my job to clean my classroom, unplug clogged toilets, shovel snow, serve lunch and chauffeur my students around. Part of me wants to tell thalli1 to buck up: welcome to the real world! 42% of kids in the U.S. live in poverty and almost half of the teachers in this country have been doing what you're complaining about for their entire teaching careers!  But there's another part of me that is just so saddened to read about thalli1's grief. She is losing something in life that she loves--her passion for teaching. I can't imagine how it would feel to lose my passion.
    I have seen the light go out in the eyes of veteran teachers. I have told myself that I will have the common sense to take myself out of the game before it happens to me. I don't want to be the old quarterback clinging to the thrill of the game even though I can no longer make the plays. But when the time comes, how will I know? How will I know that I am failing my students? Will I be able to resist the lure of the full pension, the 600 sick days, the 35 year pin? I hope that I have the good sense to get out before number of years on the job becomes more important than the lives of the kids in my classroom.

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