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On Why We Lose Good Teachers

I wake up every morning at 4:30, I am usually (but not always) home by 5:00. I have an hour and half commute, which I tell people that I love because I can grade. When I get to work, I already have students at my door, none of my curriculum has been created yet because I do something completely different from anyone else because I have some specialized content knowledge and I expect my kids to write, a lot. I have to make copies. I have to get myself ready. I have to get caffeine in my system. My classes start at 7:35 and I am on my feet teaching until 9:15 for the first period. I get ten minutes to break and then I am back on my feet (with a serious knee injury, so nice to have people keep telling me to circulate like it is something I don’t know how to do and also they keep ignoring the CANE). Two days a week (and our one through six schedule the other day) I have a prep period. The other two days I do not. I teach classes until 11:14, and then I run open office hours. Because some teachers choose to restrict those hours, don’t run them, or don’t allow the kids freedom during that time I sometimes have to turn kids away. That is not time I use as prep, I am helping students. I have a half-hour lunch, I rarely remember to eat and am usually taking care of paperwork, copies or grading, or making the plans for the next day. This is why I allow my kids to eat in my room, so I can eat too. I then teach from 12:30 to 2:17. I am in my classroom until at least three, prepping for the next day, writing curriculum, making copies or talking to students. Then I take the bus home, and I grade or plan. I get home around 5, on most nights I have more work to do, but I have a 7:00PM cut off. On the weekends, I also work, though I have a no work policy on Fridays.

My classroom is full of love. The kids are loved, they are supported, they are happy to be there, they are grateful that I teach them, they are beautiful and brilliant, and amazing. During lunch when I make my copies, I bite my tongue so I don’t go off on my colleagues when they say they aren’t beautiful, brilliant or amazing. I know them, better than they know themselves. In many cases, I know them better than any other adult. I have carefully organized seating arrangements. I know their musical preferences, I have every IEP, 504, health, family situation remembered, I remember their birthdays, and no matter how tired
I tell them how happy I am to see them every day. On my window, which most people block, it simply says: I am so happy to see you today. We are like family, even if just in my room. I would battle at the gates of hell for them and they know this, and they crawl over broken glass for me every day. No matter how tired, sad, beat down, or angry they are, they try and for that they are miracles.

My classroom is full of challenge and equitable curriculum. I taught myself Latin American history to add to my Asian history so I could teach a full world history curriculum that didn’t reinforce the dominant narrative that most of my kids deserve to be where they are in life. My kids write every day. They read primary source documents. They talk about the big ideas. They debate and make projects, and write papers. They do more writing in my class than anywhere else. They are held to a standard of evidence. They get constant feedback. They are demanded, relentlessly of, for the entire time in my room. I expect them to be kind, caring, good people and when they aren’t that goes in the curriculum too. I never assign anything I won’t grade. Every policy is carefully thought out. I let them revise. I don’t grade work to support their mastery so they can make mistakes. I don’t grade group work. I fully expect everyone to get to mastery. I expect them to be intrinsically motivated and it is reflected in my policies (What is my grade Ms. Charles? I don’t know, what do you think about that document?) I will sit down with every individual student and accommodate whatever I need to accommodate. I use technology. The objectives and standards for my classroom exceed any state or national standards by a large margin. I make mistakes all day every day. I catch them, I think about them, I correct them, I move on. I respond to the kids. I make their education their own. I assume the best in the parents. I teach them a greater responsibility in the curriculum, and I use my own personal history to connect with kids no one else can connect with and also to teach the other kids empathy for kids they have been trained to despise.

I do all of this while being incredibly physically ill. I do all of this while dealing with colleagues who hate children and who do none of these things. I do all of this despite being under constant scrutiny and having to constantly explain why I love my kids. I do all of this despite the fact that I could make a lot more than I do now with my skill set. I do all of this despite having to face emotionally triggering racism, classism, sexism, and general abuse as a human with severe PTSD. I do all of this on my bad days and good days. I never complain to the kids. I never let them think that I don’t think that teaching them is the finest pleasure and honor in the world. I teach them to believe they deserve it and I mean it.

But there are days, where I am so tired and where I know that with my medical condition that I am trading doing what is right by my kids for years of my own mobility, and where interfacing with a group of adults who don’t care or don’t understand becomes so oppressive that I think, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” Then I get up and I do it again. And again. And again.

But there is a limit. And I don’t know what it is or when I will hit it, but I fear that if people like me hit their limit my kids will never get what they need. I had my evaluations this week, on one I was almost given an ineffective because of my handwriting (it hurts to write and I am left-handed), the fact that it was taking me a little while to grade papers, and some disorganization, on the other I was given two ineffectives (of 30 categories), because some of my struggling students did not take kindly to being asked questions under pressure, my evaluator had never seen someone put kids in groups before, and because I had made the decision to individually help two of my most challenging students. Not appropriate, I was told, in a general ed class. What this means is that I will now have to have another meeting and evaluation with a support plan. I was evaluated during a week I used as a guinea pig for district coaches who used up half my prep time (which is already limited), and today while I was being evaluated another coach was sent in during my prep, despite the fact that I have a mentor I know and like, I am effective in most areas, and I am constantly improving. I have kids who have failed every other class, who have been expelled who are succeeding and excelling in my room. Only first year teachers are evaluated this way, I am the only one in my department that uses primary sources in the regular ed classroom. It is an evaluation system so insane I don’t know any teachers who would be deemed highly effective or effective in every category. It is when I am asked to make decisions that are more importance for the adults, like decorating my room, or writing the objective on the board, or having pretty handwriting, or filling out paperwork, over my decisions for the kids that I get exhausted.

I am sure there are lots of people without my health problems who can sustain this, but I don’t know if I can and I am beginning to think that it may not even be the best use of my intellectual skills. When paperwork and fitting other people’s micromanaging demands, is more important than scholarship and really, deeply, teaching, that doesn’t really seem like the best way for me to spend the education and to use the brain I have. And so tonight, I spent my Friday looking at the PhD programs I’ve been longing for ever since the Dean of the School of Ed asked me why I hadn’t just gone to get my PhD and I am not sure I am clear about the answer anymore. And that breaks my heart.

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2 thoughts on “On Why We Lose Good Teachers

  1. Despite your challenges, you still sound like a wonderful educator, someone I would like to have as my teacher. It annoys me that other teachers without challenges you face are slacking off in their profession as a teacher and do not help students. Those teachers do not have an excuse to be bad yet they still have a lot they could improve on.

    • Me too, in fact I can’t think of anything that makes me angrier.

      My kids have accomplished amazing things this year but the sad thing is that I will never get to teach k12 again because of my health, but the really sad thing is that they made it very hard for me to stay. The kids deserve better

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