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In other industries, when someone hates their job they think “it’s time to move on from my company.” The first thought at that point is not “I need to get out of [this career].” But for teachers, when they are unhappy with their current situations I often hear “I think it’s time for me to leave teaching.” Even more shockingly, this often comes from teachers who have never taught at another district or even school, or have been at that one in particular for a number of years.Well, let me be the one to tell you - you don’t hate teaching, you hate your school. Click To Tweet
Teaching is one of those professions where we are so critical of ourselves and how we carry out our job. We get in our own head and think when kids misbehave or don’t grow as much as we wanted to, that the only possible reason is that we failed them. And when we find ourselves frustrated and alienated by our job – whether it be the long hours, never-ending duties, micro-management from the administration, behavior in the classroom that never seems to improve… we jump to the conclusion that this career as a whole is not for us. We come to believe that our challenges every day must be because we are no longer compatible with teaching whether that be because we aren’t as good as we thought, the hours don’t make sense anymore, you’re tired, you can’t seem to please everyone, whatever it may be.
But what I find is that the majority of these teachers that come to this conclusion are really good teachers. They are the ones that care endlessly, almost to a fault. At their core, they adore teaching, but the obstacles become too much to bear… It breaks my heart that these teachers believe the only solution to their frustration is to leave the profession entirely.
When I got my first teaching job, I was still student teaching. I interviewed for a position in September because I was graduating that December and couldn’t wait for a new school year. This position was open because the previous teacher left, and they desperately wanted to have a consistent teacher instead of the parade of substitutes that had been running the class all of the first quarter.
At the interview, I felt very welcomed and supported. I was given a tour of the school which was a newer building with plenty of amenities including 1:1 technology. I could really see myself teaching there and I believed as a student teacher and then first-year teacher, the administration would provide me the help I needed in that journey. They offered the job and I took it – I was obviously elated to get my own classroom so early!
But then I really struggled at this school. It was a middle school which was not the age of students I wanted to teach, I ideally wanted to be at a high school. There were a lot of extra duties and assignments at the school – weekly lesson plans that were often criticized for minor flaws, morning and afternoon duty to make sure there weren’t fights on campus, etc. I also felt like my administration was always looking over my shoulder, and while they would say things that sounded supportive, I would leave meetings of critique feeling like I was a failure. There was also little support for misbehavior so students walked all over me. I really was not happy at this school, and I struggled to finish the year there.
Now some might learn about my first experience and think – welcome to being a teacher, especially in your first year! But I refused to accept that was the only reason it was a hard year. I strongly believed that I was a professional and wanted to be treated like one even if I did have less experience than most of my peers. But more importantly, I believed that not all schools and districts were the same, and if I looked, I might find a place where I fit in.
Of course, I did interviews and found a school I loved. It was an alternative school with kids who sometimes had criminal backgrounds and there were tons of behavioral challenges. But I also saw that teachers at that school looked genuinely happy. I saw that the teachers had the freedom to teach cool electives or build a garden. I talked to the principal who told me my classroom was my world and he would never tell me how to run my world. He also told me the ways in which he supported teachers when behavior issues came up, and I was impressed. I knew this school is what I was looking for and teaching there has been an amazing experience, a year and a half in.
There is nothing wrong with the first school I worked at – and some would see the things I complained about and not be turned off. On the other hand, people may hear about the place I currently work and wonder why I would choose that environment. I think we do not stress the importance of finding the right school for teachers. Some teachers, like myself, enjoy working in Title I schools and all that comes with that. Other teachers really enjoy working in schools with robust and supported AP/IB programs with parents who are involved in their kids’ education.
I want to encourage you if you are someone who has or continues to think about leaving – have you ever taught anywhere else? Have you thought about what you need in a teaching job, and went and looked for it?