I haven’t written about my teaching life in a long time. I’ve been avoiding writing because I felt like a fraud. In my sixteenth year of teaching, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to be positive or to find satisfaction in what I do. Good enough has never been good enough for me, but even on my “bad days” when I haven’t given my version of my best work I’ve shown up and collected my paycheck and it’s made me feel guilty.
I’ve jokingly told colleagues that if I had a little more self-esteem I’d go find another job. Only it didn’t feel like a joke on some of my darker days, and that feeling has been my shame. The profession that I love, that I excel at, that is the most important thing for my son’s future and the collective future of our nation is in such an abysmal state that I could not with good conscience recommend a teaching career to anyone- including myself.
I know what good teaching and learning looks like. I’ve have seen the positive impact for students of dedicated teaching professionals. I know how to make it happen in my library, and I know how to support others to make it work in their classroom as well. But I’ve also seen fear and ignorance lead to poor student outcomes. I’ve seen personal wants trump professional responsibilities. I’ve seen turf wars, lack of communication, personality clashes, wasteful spending, and apathy. My own good intentions have been thwarted by professional jealousy, insecurity, and my lack of visibility of the bigger picture.
The sum total of all the state and federal legislation, especially in Florida, has fundamentally changed the function and structure of teaching and it has become a hostile work environment.
Tight budgets have led to the elimination of instructional positions and dwindling classroom supplies. Increased focus on student academic outcomes has decreased focus on whole student socio-emotional learning. Efforts to eliminate evaluation bias have led to a deteriorating school culture. And the change to making staffing decisions based on evaluation instead of hire date (a practice I support in theory) has had a chilling effect on teacher collaboration, which has the potential to negatively impact student learning across the board.
Some of the best intentioned programs have missed their mark entirely in execution. Florida’s Best and Brightest was designed to attract and retain high quality teaching. Instead of funding SAT scores of newbies, the money would have been better used to reward teachers that have demonstrated a commitment to their craft like National Board Certified teachers. I support school choice and believe it needed to be expanded so school districts would be forced to upset the status quo. Education was not working for all students. However, school choice needs to be a real choice between comparable products, including funding for transportation and holding all schools receiving public funding to the same accountability standards.
It’s taken me half a year to realize that it’s because of my relatively healthy levels of self-esteem that I choose to stay. My heart tells me I can and must continue to show up, every day, and do what’s best for kids. The work to change education was never going to be clean or easy, but it was and continues to be necessary. And while I can’t recommend the career to anyone new right now, I will continue to support and encourage those that are already here to help me do the work that needs to be done to build an education system that works for all students. I’m not a hero. I’m just a realist whose realized it’s OK to work within the system while working on changing the system.