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By Lanee Higgins
At 16, it was my dream to become an English teacher. I wanted to inspire students the way my English teachers inspired me. I sacrificed so much to become a teacher--sleep, sanity, and being there for my grandma’s final days of life-- it hurts that much more that at 28 I let this dream die.
Many people will look at me like I’m crazy: You gave up a good job with job security and healthcare during a global pandemic?! Yes, yes I did. The dream that I had sacrificed so much to achieve had become a nightmare that was increasingly draining the life out of me. Being a teacher is hard, and while it is not the sole source of my depression, it is one of the biggest triggers.
Teaching demanded more and more of me-- more than I was willing to give. I am paid for 32.5 hours, but I work 50. Weekends are dedicated to catching up on work instead of spending time with my husband and son. I go to bed at 1:30 AM planning, grading, doing reports, contacting parents, and anything else I missed. I wake up at 6:00 AM trying to catch up on all the things I didn’t do the night before prior to the start of the school day.
Add the lack of support from parents and the school system.
Add the isolation of the pandemic.
Add the fear of returning to unsafe work conditions and the failure of the union to protect us.
Add the meetings that give more reports to do and more phone calls to make and more strategies to include in your instruction.
And it becomes an endless never-ending cycle of losing yourself to meet the demands of a system that you will never satisfy because it will always want more.
No wonder I crumbled.
I am not writing this to bash the teaching profession. I loved teaching. Getting students excited about reading and discussing literature or understanding how an era in American history impacted our lives today was fulfilling. Planning lessons that were both creative and engaging was my specialty: I found the perfect balance between reaching and teaching students. I learned from my students as much as they learned from me, and I valued each and every one of the perspectives that they brought to my language arts class. But if you were never a teacher (or have a teacher significant other), you have NO idea what teachers endure on a daily basis. You don’t know that a school day starts way before the start of the actual school day and ends hours after the bell rings.
You don’t see workplace bullying, gaslighting, and intimidation.
You don’t hear the tones that administrators, parents, and students take with teachers that have caused many of us to cry at our desks, in front of our students, and in our cars on the way home. You haven’t witnessed a teacher get physically hurt by a student or by protecting a student. You don’t know the pain when you lose a student to illness, accident, murder, or suicide.
When teachers do find the strength to voice how much teaching hurts their mental health, the responses from administrations and local educational leaders are lackluster. We’re told, “if we’re feeling this way, imagine how the students are feeling.” We must think of their needs before our own.
They forget that exhausted, unhappy teachers don’t create the best learning environments.
Not because we don’t want to, but because we’re so drained we can’t. We’re told “self-care!” but no amount of “self-care” is going to fix the broken public education that breaks teachers.
More mental health resources need to be obtainable for educators.
More districts need to adopt policies on addressing educator trauma.
More support and fewer demands need to be placed on teachers.
Teachers need more pay for the work that they do on and off the clock. I want all of these changes to happen because our teachers more than deserve it. I taught for seven years, but my mental health couldn’t afford for me to wait around and hope. The decision to resign as an 8th-grade language arts teacher killed my dream, but it saved my life.
I was once the 2014 Hood College Distinguished Teacher Candidate of the Year, but now I’m unemployed.