The Straw.

Cranky Blogger Warning:  I’m exhausted, y’all.  And sad.  That means this post is probably more emotion than it is logic.  I won’t apologize for that — it is a part of who I am — but it also means that I might just feel differently about all of this tomorrow.  

Hope you’ll understand.

Bill

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Simple Radical Truth:  Staying in the classroom full-time has ALWAYS been my only professional goal.  I love the #edtech and #atplc consulting work that I do, but the fact that I still work with kids all day, every day is what I’m proudest of.  More importantly, it’s what I enjoy the most.

But after the past few days, I’m not sure that I’ll be a full-time classroom teacher for long.

You see, my four-year old daughter — who I love more than life — went to her first gymnastics class on Tuesday and I missed it because I was working one of the three part time jobs that I work in order to make ends meet around our house.  Rumor has it that she LOVED the entire experience.  She walked on balance beams and jumped on trampolines and wore a harness as she flew and flipped her way around a local gym.

“I’ve never seen her so happy!” my wife said.

Neither have I.  

Things got worse when I got home.  “Do you think we could sign Reece up for gymnastics classes?” my wife asked.  “They’re $67 dollars a month.”  She knew my answer before I had the chance to speak.  We don’t have $67 extra dollars a month for gymnastics classes no matter how happy they would make my daughter — and finding another $67 dollars a month would mean spending even more of my nights and weekends away from home shaking the money tree.

Then my best friend called.  “Hey Bill: We’re going camping this weekend and thought you guys might want to come with us.  We’ll have a campfire and cook Smores with the kids.  Whaddya’ think?  We know Reece has been asking about going camping all summer.  It’ll be fun!”

Should be an easy answer, shouldn’t it?  Any GOOD dad would jump at the chance to take his daughter camping for the first time with friends and family on an early fall weekend, right?

Here’s the hitch:  I have a GOOD 20 hours of part time work that needs to get done this weekend.  Going camping will put me WAY behind.  Might even mean that I miss a deadline or two — or that I do a poor job at the 5 different workshops I’m delivering in the next three weeks.

Do you have any idea how broken I am right now?

I feel like a complete failure as a father.  I can’t afford the classes that my daughter wants to take and I can’t find the time to take her camping.  Instead, I’ll spend my weekend like I spend damn near every night of my life: Sitting in a McDonalds writing blog entries, preparing for presentations, and praying that I find potential contacts with contracts in a Hail Mary attempt to cobble together a semblance of a living.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m NOT looking for sympathy.  This isn’t meant to be a woe-is-me, the sky-is-falling-and-it’s-not-my-fault kind of post.

I know full well how lucky I am to have a solid full-time job doing something that I love.  That’s more than many people can say in the crappy economy that we’ve all lived through for the better part of a decade.  Heck, until the State of North Carolina goes broke, I even have a pension.  Just as importantly, I’m proud of what I do for a living because I know it matters.  I’ve made a difference — and that is worth more than most paychecks.

And for long while, I was more than willing to ignore the fact that I was making less than the majority of my friends and family members.  I didn’t need to go on vacations or drive new cars in order to be happy — and the 1,028 square foot house that I live in on the on a .08 acre lot that I own was more than enough for me.  I was even perfectly satisfied with the fact that my wife and I are still using the Sears press-board dresser that my mom and dad bought me when I was 12 to store our grown-up clothes in.

But a simple fact rumbled right into the middle of my life this week:  My decision to ignore opportunities to move into higher-paying positions beyond the classroom out of a noble commitment to teaching aren’t just hurting ME anymore.  They’re hurting my daughter and my wife — and I’m not sure I’m willing to let that happen for much longer.

#sheesh

___________________

Related Radical Reads:

Here’s How Being a Father is Changing Me as a Teacher

Saying Goodbye to Maria

A Profession that Doesn’t Give Back

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  • Nate Barton

    Bill,

    Bill,

    You know that I left the classroom two years ago now to see if I could make a go of being a full time artist. I am still right in the midst of that pursuit and here’s the best part: Stress freedom. Though I still have concerns about making my ends meet, I regularly volunteer in a classroom and coach womens field hockey at the local high school, I am still able to have direct impact on kids and my stress has virtually disappeared. I no longer have to battle with impossible expectations, while still having to uphold my commitment to the young people that I work so hard to serve. 

    Then there’s the self respect. My biggest beef with education, I discovered, was the lack of professional respect that only seemed to increase as I travelled down that career path. Now in my building I was very well respected, but none of that seemed to matter as county and state and fed only seem to trust my credentials less and less. 

    Seeing it from the outside now, it is even clearer how little we are respected as professionals. It is scary that it only seems to be getting more bleak. 

    I don’t think that you would be selling out by stepping out of the game. Truth be told, for someone with your level of commitment to your work, it is incredible that you have persevered as long as you have. 

    I think my biggest fear when I left was that, somehow, I was being selfish. I wasn’t used to putting me first. The amazing thing that I have learned is that in treating myself well, it has become so much easier to give back to others.

    Stand strong sir,

    Nate

    • billferriter

      Hey Nate,

      Hey Nate,

      Always appreciate your insight, that’s for sure.  In a lot of ways, I see myself in you.  We share the same frustrations with the dysfunctional system that educators work in — and you’ve found a way to work beyond the system and still feel like you’re making a difference for kids.

      That’s inspiration for me to consider the fact that I can remain a teacher and leave the system all at the same time. 

      Right now, I just want to find a way to pay my bills that doesn’t involve missing every moment of my daughter’s life!

      Hope you are well,

      Bill

  • Mark

    touching…

    Thanks for your heartfelt honesty in this post.  I don’t have any easy answers but found myself deeply moved by your writing.  I wish you well.

  • LisaLewis

    You know, my first reaction

    You know, my first reaction is that my heart aches for you. The sacrifices that all parents make to give their kids something more, something special outweighs all the personal choices and alternatives that we give up. It’s not just teachers.  I remember being in tears because while I was working at an incredible, well paying corporate job, I couldn’t figure out how to manipulate my schedule to get my three year old from full time day care to our church so he could be in the children’s choir.  I cried in church because my child didn’t get to sing with the other children. (Fast forward 21years, I don’t think he has lasting scars. At least, I hope not. ) I have a friend that every time she found a book she thought her son would like, she bought 2 copies. That was because she had to read it to him over the phone long distance since she traveled so much for her job.  But we (and they) can’t do everything. If your daughter is meant to be in gymnastics or choir or football or dance, you will find a way. In the meantime, please know that your insights and wisdom have made a difference in many of our classrooms and the relationships we have with our students. Please don’t give up.

  • Carolyn Hirst-Loucks

    Tough decisions

    As you said you sound tired and emotionally drained and everything might seem different tomorrow but tough decisions are in your future.  I am sure you have begun weighing and balancing the pros and cons to a change.  Be sure to consider that as someone considering a new position you may not fully recognize the new constraints on your time and money that arise from a new job and may find yourself in a similar position with not enough time to do the things you want to do with your family.  My thoughts are with you.  

  • Ariel Margolis

    In response

    I completely understand from where you are coming. As a f/t teacher, I have to supplement my income through tutoring and being an eBay seller. And it is still not enough. Yet, when I became a Middle School Principal, while I was making more $, both my family and I suffered: I had less time to be with them because of the demands of the job (there was never a vacation when I didn’t have to deal with a parent or school issue) and my health was impacted. After six years, I stepped back into the classroom. Do I miss the additional pay? You bet. But I can say that I love my job and that is priceless. I have learned to deal with my pride and ask my parents for help at times or telling my children that the “gymnastic lessons” are a Hanukkah gift and let them decide if they want it. 

    As for the camping trip vs. going to the gymnastics class… pick and choose which one you want to be at and then make the commitment. You can’t be at everything and your kids will understand. I bet you spend quality time with your kids each day (be it talking about their day at supper or reading a bedtime story). 

    Perhaps knowing that there are many out there dealing with the same issue is helpful. It certainly helps me and I thank you for sharing!

  • C Hardy

    personal time for teachers

    I hear you!  Who we are is defined by the time, energy and effort we put into supporting student success.

    That said, I have saved one night a week this year for personal and family time.  I try to keep it the same day every week, but that does not always work, so my family if flexible to move the night on occasion.  This has worked wonders for my sanity and my connection with my family.  I also try to have at least 8 hours on weekends dedicated to personal/family time.

    One of my favorite books is a child’s book, “Five Minutes Peace”

    We do need that time.  Take it for yourself.

    Thank you for being an inspiration to me.  I really appreciate that you speak from the heart as well as from the mind.

  • Elizabeth Hubbell

    I hear you

    Hi Bill,

    This post resonated so much with me. I vividly remember my “financial wake-up call” when I met with our school’s TIAA CREF representative. When he told me the suggested savings goal for retirement for my generation, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry – it was SO out of reach compared to what I was making (and able to save) at the time.

    We go into education with the most altruistic of intentions, but I realized that day that retiring without adequate savings would only make me a burden on society. I still miss my kiddos every day and may someday return to the classroom if I can swing it, but for now I am comforted by the fact that 1) I still work in education and help to make a difference at the school/district level and 2) that I won’t be dependent on friends, family, or taxpayers in my old age.

    It’s a harsh reality for educators sometimes. Hang in there.

    Elizabeth

  • WendiPillars

    Just sayin’

    Bill, I admire your honesty. As a fellow NC peep, I’ve done some serious soul-searching this past year myself, thanks to the extra jobs and fears of parental failure. It’s A LOT to think about.  

    In spite of what you’ve been going through, and the decisions that lie in wait (yeah, I just love the ones that kind of ambush ya, don’t you?), you have made a difference for many–teachers and their students…but it is a tremendous decision and culture change to consider leaving the kids. 

    Sure wish I knew of something helpful to say to you. Hang in there, and may you persevere in whatever you decide, amid all the rumblings of the universe. But, hey, for what it’s worth, thank you for all the tips and learning you’ve imparted since I’ve been reading your blog posts the past couple of years. 🙂  

     

     

     

     

  • billferriter

    Just a quick note to say

    Just a quick note to say thanks for the encouragement and kind words, all y’all.  I’m jazzed that my work has resonated with you in the past few years and appreciate the advice you’re sending my way regarding the tension between being a parent who is present and a professional doing work that matters to me.

    What’s interesting to me is that it sounds like I’m not the only one struggling to make ends meet as a full-time classroom teacher. 

    That sucks, doesn’t it? 

    Will we ever get to the point where we — and by “we,” I mean the greater community — will demand that teaching become something more than a second income kind of career for families or an entry level job for new graduates?

    Or has the notion that teachers teach so they can be at home with their kids during the summer — not so that they can be the primary breadwinner for their families — been too darn cemented in the culture of American education to change?

    Bill

     

     

  • marsharatzel

    Dear Bill,

    Dear Bill,

    I hear you.  Like you I’ve financially struggled because I was a single mom raising 3 kids pretty much on my own dime.  Like you I worked multiple jobs to raise them, put them through college and get them launched in their own lives.  For me, I just learned that every decade of life seems to bring a new challenge to my own understanding of my character and my moral fabric.  Life seems to push those buttons where, just like you were reflecting upon, you have to figure out who and what you are.  Just as soon as you get these buttons reset and working, they’ll get pushed by something else.  Hang in there.

    First….I couldn’t agree with you more about the lack of respect that our salaries afford us.  While I understand and agree with the idea that teaching is a calling and that I’m some sort of social missionary for our society, I reject any notion that if I want to be well paid I should get out of teaching.  I know you’ve heard me say this for years and years and years…but the payment method for our profession is broken.  I won’t say what I think is wrong because that’s a whole other conversation…..but if a person has to work extra jobs in order to financially make it, then I think it’s strong evidence it’s broken.  If I could do one thing as my legacy it wouldn’t even be the classroom stuff, it would be to fix the salary system.  That seems impossible to me….so many political forces in play and I have no desire to be political (beyond what I have to do to keep my job).

    Second, while I get what you say about Reece.  But I want to tell you that she’ll be OK and you’ll be OK….probably better than OK.  It’s all just stuff and gymnastic lessons are no different than wanting to be able to buy her the top of the line __________________ .  It does stink we can’t buy our kids as much as the department store manager, doctor, banker, lawyer or accountant….but our kids grow up knowing that we love every iota of their being and that we worked hard. Your salary buys her that!  

    You know my kids are in their late 20s….and they watched me work all day at school, go to school at night, work those extra jobs, sacrifice and teach them to be happy with less.  It was pretty awful when they were teenagers and I had to hear all the backtalk about how I stunk it up as a provider (which I know they didn’t mean but said anyway).  They were angry that I walked away from being a hospital administrator that would have given all that stuff.  Teflon for my heart and body armour for those pot shots.  Nothing they threw at me could have been worse than how I felt.  But I survived and muddled through with the best intentions.

    Now….all that modeling paid off.  So many young people don’t know how to do what my kids know.  Because I wasn’t here at home, they mowed the lawn (we didn’t have a lawn service).  Because I wasn’t here, they learned to start dinner (and now they are fantastic cooks).  Because I wasn’t here they learned to do their own laundry, clean the bathrooms and vaccuum (we didn’t have a maid service or a housekeeper).   They learned how to get their own part-time job and save up for those designer clothes I couldn’t afford.

    They also learned because I was working so hard for them to turn in their own HW, to study for their tests, to always do the extra credit because they didn’t want to end up in this kind of job….and college wasn’t nearly as hard for them.  They knew they better not mess up school if I was out there busting my rear to make it financially.  None of them would even consider for a New York second to become a teacher….they would run from repeating this life I’ve lead.  I say that and I would also tell you that their dad was a corporate executive for years and they never saw him.  He was very busy having a fabulous career, flying all over the world being successful and famous in his profession. They saw their dad die before he was 50 and all that money couldn’t help him live or them to have a dad or for their future children to have a grandpa.   They are running from repeating that successful corporate executive lifestyle too.

     My friend, as sad as it is, there are social classes to our society and when we get a taste of it as a mom or dad…..it’s bad.  I think we are strong enough not to care for ourselves, but for our kids.  Ohhhhhhh, that hits our soft spot.  Now my children would say that what I gave them was character and a willingness to work hard, not to be afraid of starting from the bottom and working your way up and being happy with less.

    I missed lots of special moments along the way but I also was there for tons of great things too.   I felt like I had to develop a gameplan where I spent my scarce resources where I thought the payoff would be the best, so I feel like we triumphed because we always had dinner and the bedtime routine…and we had our Sundays(except the year I did National Boards and then we lost those).  Those cemented us together.  I have an infinite amount of memories and experiences to the point my heart overflows.

    Hang in there.  You have a terrific family, you are a good dad and it will be OK.  Parenting is hard and being a grown up is harder.  You can do it!

     

    • billferriter

      Marsha wrote:

      Marsha wrote:

      They also learned because I was working so hard for them to turn in their own HW, to study for their tests, to always do the extra credit because they didn’t want to end up in this kind of job….and college wasn’t nearly as hard for them.  They knew they better not mess up school if I was out there busting my rear to make it financially.  None of them would even consider for a New York second to become a teacher….they would run from repeating this life I’ve lead.

      – – – – – – – – – – – –

      Hey Pal,

      First, thanks for your comment.  Read the whole thing.  Every line made sense to me and mattered simply because it came from you and you’ve always been a reminder to me that things will be okay. 

      But this part of your comment made me really sad for our profession.  Isn’t it wild that your own children wanted nothing to do with teaching as a career — that they learned that your choice to be a teacher meant that they had to learn to do without you — that your choice to be a teacher meant that you were going to have to work like a dog in order to support a family?

      That sucks.  No wonder no one wants to teach. 

      Like you, I’m sick of the way that we pay teachers.  We continue to think that teaching is a nice second salary for a family instead of a career for professionally-minded people.  Drives me nuts.

      Bill

  • ReneeMoore

    Why Should You Have to Choose?

    As I read your piece, I’m bouncing it off not one, but several conversations I have had just this week also with fellow teachers who are seriously considering either retiring or leaving the profession–all of it driven by financial realities. 

    I know too many teachers who have to work multiple jobs to make up for the slack in our salaries. In Miss, as in other places, particularly in non-unionized areas, we had a social contract (and in some cases legislative asssurance) that if we could accept living on miserably unprofessional wages, we would be compensated with a decent income in our retirement. Many places have or are trying to renege on that. 

    Many of the teachers I know who are close to or eligible for retirement, are afraid to do it because of what it will cost, and the actual numbers of pension and social security don’t come to nearly what they had expected. 

    My anger is over why great teachers like you and so many others who do so much for so many children should have to choose between teaching and getting a job that actually pays enough to sustain a middle class lifestyle. I’ve listened to some critics of the current movement among fastfood workers for living wages argue that, “Well, those aren’t supposed to be lifelong careers for someone with a family.”  Yeah, well teaching is. 

    For myself and my own family–the 11 children we have raised—there have been some hard times and hard decisions. My husband has always worked a low-paying jobs; my teaching salary has always been the main income. God has always provided for us and our children, we’ve not been homeless, naked,  or without any food; praise His Name. 

    But there is something very, very wrong in our society where leaders keep insisting that children are our most precious resource and good teachers are important, while teachers have to neglect time with our own children to earn enough to take care of them. 

    • billferriter

      Renee wrote:

      Renee wrote:

      But there is something very, very wrong in our society where leaders keep insisting that children are our most precious resource and good teachers are important, while teachers have to neglect time with our own children to earn enough to take care of them. 

      – – – – – – –

      It’s duplicitous, Renee.  We keep harping on the importance of reimagining education so that we’ll remain competitive in a knowledge driven marketplace AND criticizing the quality of teachers at every turn, yet we create a profession where people can’t possibly make ends meet unless they marry someone who has a “real job.”

      And speaking of retirement: I’m in this for the pension right now.  If that gets stripped away before I retire, I will have been screwed completely by “the system.”  Worries me every day.

      (Can you tell I’m bitter?)

      Bill

  • Pat

    No Regrets

    I have made it a goal this year to not commit to doing more than 3 things at one time which has really made my life so much easier! I have a hard time saying no and want to do so many things. Then later I resent having to do them because other things come along that I want to do. My husband also resents me not having enough time for him then. This policy has really helped me do many more things with a positive attitude. When friends pass away or opportunities are no longer there, I can look back with no regrets and glad I made the time for them. No matter what you decide to do, make sure that you will be able to look back and not have regrets because as you grow older, this will be so important. 

  • ArielSacks

    Worried about my future in the classroom too

    Bill, your post resonated with me too. I’m worried about being in the very predicament you are in as a teacher and parent–though I’m not there yet.  Right now, I teach full time and do lots of outside, mostly wriitng work.  This supplements my income a bit, though not hugely. I’ve been operating with the believe that if I keep at it, both in and outside the classroom, times will catch up to us and I’ll be able to create and enjoy my dream career, getting paid well to teach and write and lead. But so far, this is still a dream. 

    I want to have a family, but I’m sure that when I do, something will have to give.  Either teaching or the outside work I do will have to go. I worry that I wouldn’t be happy without the element of working directly with students. I also fear that I wouldn’t be professionally fulfilled–or paid enough–to “just” teach. And yet my husband and I plan to start a family.  Sometime soon, something will change, and I feel truly challenged to come up with a plan. Your post and all of the comments let me know I’m not alone, though.

     

     

     

    • billferriter

      Ariel wrote:

      Ariel wrote:

      I’ve been operating with the believe that if I keep at it, both in and outside the classroom, times will catch up to us and I’ll be able to create and enjoy my dream career, getting paid well to teach and write and lead. But so far, this is still a dream. 

      – – – – – – – – –

      Here’s the bad news, Ariel:  I’ve been doing this kind of work for over a decade now and I still can’t pay my bills. 

      Worse yet, even with the success I’ve had at building a career and a platform outside of the classroom, I haven’t been able to convince anyone IN my system to rethink the role that I play.  My goal has always been to (1) prove what I know and (2). use that proof to get my district to create a hybrid role for me where I stay in the classroom full-time and work as a professional development provider during the windows of time I have without students.

      Every time I pitch one of those roles, I get the same answer:  “Why would we ever want to do that when there are people who would jump at the chance to do professional development work full-time, Bill?  Don’t you SEE what we are offering you?”

      #sucks

      I’m not trying to be a downer — but I think you and I are really similar in a ton of ways and I can tell you from experience that the road is still pretty darn rocky. 

      Bill

       

       

  • CarrieKamm

    #ugh

    Hi Bill,

    Your piece really resonates with me.  Although I am not in a classroom teacher position any longer (and quite frankly it is hard for me to fathom working at the pace and hours I did as a classroom teacher with two 3.5 year olds at home), I am in a constant battle against the clock-finding the right amount of time to be with my family, friends, and go above and beyond in my professional role (as well as participate in other interesting professional opportunities).  

    I don’t have much in the way of advice and everyone else has already shared my frustrations regarding compensation.  Just don’t go the path of Walter White-just a little joke (if you are a Breaking Bad fan).  

     

    Best,

    Carrie