Letter From a Teacher-Mama on Her Way Out of the Classroom Door
For the past 14 years, I have worked as an educator. I have potty-trained little people, taught students how to write their names and identify their colors, pushed students to use their voices to advocate for their and their communities needs through the written word, and assisted many in explaining to colleges just why they should be accepted. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve worked with students from preschool all the way up to senior year and loved every second of it… until now.
When I started down this career path, I knew it wouldn’t always be sunshine and rainbows. I knew the pay versus the cost of certification was absurd. I knew I would never be fully compensated for all the hours I would put in or the supplies I would have to purchase out of my own check, but I forged forward into the realm of education because, well… I have a heart and passion for the development of our future leaders. I went into this field saying to myself: If not me, then who? I went into this field reciting the mantra: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Then, one day it hit me: America, as a whole, does not truly care about the education of its youth.
I know. I know. I know. Let the debate and the wild comments commence, but hear me out. The past two school years have been the most difficult of my entire career and it has not been because of the students. Furthermore, I have heard the cries of fellow educators who share in the sentiment. The field of teaching seems to be the only field I’ve ever encountered where society demands the employee to go above and beyond what they are actually hired and compensated to do. During the pandemic, this notion was made perfectly clear. I remember fielding text messages from students well after 11pm because it was made clear that we as educators needed to be available to our students and we also needed to work to make sure they passed their classes. I remember printing off pages and pages of work for my students (on my own printer) and driving around my city to pass it out or collect completed assignments. I remember trying to balance making sure my own sons were logged in and paying attention to their teachers while teaching my own classes. I also remember reading the rants of parents regarding how teachers were milking the pandemic as a means to just stay home and chill. I remember how our government officials even chimed in at times with the same sentiment. Nevertheless, I and many of my colleagues just took the blows. While we would occasionally waste our breath attempting to explain what we actually do, in forums and on social media posts, we came to the conclusion that our pleas and logic was falling on deaf ears and plowed through the B.S., for our kids.
The pandemic wasn’t the end all be all for me though. Dysfunctional systems and lack of parental/community support was the kicker. Throughout the years I have taught a wide range of students: ethnically, socioeconomically, and academically. My heart has always been with and for students of color, especially our young Black men. Over the years, I have been coerced into going against my ethical compass and passing kids that sometimes never show up. Why? Because positive graduation data is what keeps schools open and districts from dissolution. My conscience can no longer take it. I know what happens to kids that are simply passed along. Many lack the skills and stamina necessary to thrive in the colleges they apply for. They apply for loans that leave them in debt and degreeless. Some do not even attempt to go to college or pick up a trade. They work lower level jobs and quit as soon as they are challenged. Why? Because many teachers have been put in a space where they can no longer hold students accountable for their actions or lack thereof due to system policies. The kicker however is that the larger systems require that teachers provide rigor AND make sure these students pass. Without accountability on a student’s part that feat becomes harder and harder.
Another factor that no one wants to hear: I’ve seen a decrease in parental support. Remember, I told you I teach at the high school level. When I first started, there were only a few parents that would be hard to reach, but overall I knew that my students’ parents cared about their child’s academic outcomes. Being a mama, I know that work schedules can get crazy so I have talked to parents through phone, text, email, and I’ve even sat on a few couches and park benches to chat. Over the course of the past four years, I’ve noticed that some parents have no means of contacting them. Some parents actually block their child’s school phone number. I have always been a proponent of building relationships with the families of my students, in an effort to build the student up. Lately, that’s been harder and harder to do. When young people know their parents aren’t accessible or don’t want to be accessed… man. You wouldn’t believe some of the issues I could tell you about that play out in the classroom. I have talked to some parents who have said, I really don’t know how to help you, cuz they act a fool here too or Well, they didn’t feel like going so I didn’t force the issue. I never thought this would ever become as common as it’s become. This is not to say that this is all parents. I have some awesome relationships with some hard-working parents who truly want the best for their kids, but the number of those relationships are dwindling quicker than I ever imagined.
This is the school year that I stopped breaking up fights. I watched a security guard get knocked to the ground and a student simply say Oh my bad Miss as she stepped over her to get back to the fight she was a part of. That security guard was concussed. Haven’t seen her since. I watched a pile of girls continue to beat on each other as a counselor was dragged to the floor trying to break them up. I have heard countless threats hurled at teachers simply because a student was agitated with another student. The worst part though? I have seen students call up the adults in their lives to come to the school to fight other children… and the adults make their way, during the middle of the day, to do so. The craziest part of all of this is that I teach in a building that’s considered a “good school”. This is not just an urban district issue. As I have children in a suburban district, I know first hand that this is happening in the suburbs as well.
I am only one of thousands of teachers across our country that will walk away from the classrooms and students they have loved and held close for decades, because we simply cannot continue to take the literal and metaphorical beating from all angles. My heart will always be with the youth. I will always work toward giving youth, especially youth of color, an equitable educational experience. I will always champion for teachers, especially those who are braving their way into the field during one of the most tumultuous times in this country’s educational history, but I’m finally putting my health and well-being and that of the children who call me mom first.