Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why I stay...and what makes me think about leaving

Recently, one of my online tribe (I haven't been a good tribe member lately--I've been blogging instead of Tweeting) announced she's leaving the classroom, at least for now. Beth will find a role in education, I know. But her very difficult decision to leave sparked an idea for a graduate class project: a video from teachers to let people know why they stay.

This project has been on my mind all week long. I have a good idea of the piece I want to contribute; I had a tough time narrowing it down. There are so many reasons why I stay. Still, I didn't want it to be MY video, so I thought I'd write a bit down here. 
  • I've already written an entire post about being part of the community. That's primary reason I stay.
  • The students do make me laugh. They do unexpected, silly things. I get to watch them grow up, become more independent, and move on to new places. I love being part of their stories, and I would miss that.
  • I'm the safe place for some of my students. I've held them as they've cried; I've cheered for them when they've succeeded; and I've listened and offered my opinions when asked. I needed that safe space when I was a teen, and I pay it forward by being that trusted adult.
  • This year, before Spring Break, no fewer than 4 students came to me to ask for book recommendations. My decision to value independent reading is paying off for quite a few of my students. Some still aren't on the bandwagon, yet. But, sometimes, I run across tweets like this: "Mrs Kervina is the only teacher that gets me reading for fun" and I know I'm getting through sometimes.I work with some fantastic people who care about kids. Seriously, I'm pretty fortunate that I can name   several professional colleagues who will bounce ideas around and do care about learning and about the art of teaching.
  • I do firmly believe that reading and writing are so very fundamental to our ability to be part of society and to make rational, intelligent choices. I know reading fiction increases empathy and can help foster a sense of belonging. Writing is not only valued by employers (who want to see more emphasis on oral and written communications in colleges), it can help one better understand the self and the world. It's a process that can be used for thinking, reflecting, learning, expressing, arguing, advocating, or even entertaining. Our stories are who we are.
But there are also aspects of what I do that I don't like. These are the things that drive me to look at from time to time.
  • Grades. I'll say it: I don't like grading. I don't love mountains of paper. I don't love endless to-do lists. Almost all of these things are the result of grades. We're so grade and score-focused in education that there's a constant pressure to put some sort of mark on each piece of paper generated. It's hard to push back, even when I point out that not every note in every scale is assessed in music, not every dribble of a ball is assessed in basketball, and not every brush stroke or sketchbook drawing is assessed in art. 
  • The constant thinking about school. I don't love that I cannot turn off my job brain. Seriously, thinking about my job wakes me up at night. I love the challenge of creating a classroom where kids learn. But sometimes, I just want to go to sleep and sleep through the night, or spend a whole weekend without thinking in terms of lessons, assessments, and to-dos.
  • Discipline. I get it; it's the job of teens to push the boundaries. That doesn't mean I love being the one who has to set them or who has to enforce them. However, I'm the adult in the room. I accept that.
  • The endless rhetoric of blame. There are a few voices calling for moderation on the blame game. There are voices who point out that this focus on bad teachers will drive people out of education.In fact, teacher job satisfaction is at the lowest it has been in 25 years
  • The consistent implication or outright claims that teachers are lazy and greedy. I work harder at this job for 5 figures less than I made as a government contractor. Yes, I don't "work" from the last week in June to the last week in August, in that I don't go to school and teach; I also don't get paid for that time. Nor do I get paid for spring break, winter break, or federal holidays. I'm on a 193-day contract. The rest of the time, even though I'm often working late, on weekends, and over breaks, is uncompensated time. But, if you read any comment on any story, blog, or opinion column on the web, someone's going to say that teachers like me should be thankful for our easy, cushy, summers-off jobs and should stop being so greedy.
  • Decision fatigue. I'm on whenever there's a class of students. I take my responsibilities quite seriously, too. So, I have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions I make each day. the first 6 months I taught, I also worked 10 hour days every other day. I can tell you from experience that working for 10 hours in an office doesn't hold a candle to working with kids. The 10-hour days were easier.
I do live with a sort of anxiety that the balance will tip enough that I'll leave the classroom. But, for now, the reasons I stay still outweigh those for leaving.


  1. What a great list. I agree with pretty much everything, especially loved the part about encouraging students to read for fun! Yes! Glad you are staying.

    1. Jone, it's been an interesting experiment. All they have to do is meet comfortable page goals. It's actually about time for them to re-adjust those goals to see if they have improved. Many have!

      Now that most have read a couple of books, I'm going to ask them to make book trailers to share, too.

  2. What a great list. It is hard to be a teacher today - an era with so little respect for what we do and how we make a difference with every thing we say and do. It is an amazing profession and while I hate the testing and the implications that we don't work..I laugh and say...come along any day for the ride.

    1. Anita, we seem to be in perfect agreement. I'm so over the tests. I'm even becoming disillusioned with the ones that aren't linked to graduation. I'm just not sure what we're measuring.

      But I can tell you the kids who need more help to even pass the minimums. And I can say with certainty that the kids have become more timid in their thinking and less motivated to do things that aren't measured.

      Even still, those same kids keep me coming back. :)

  3. Ouch! This is all so painful - and true. I ahve been teacing for many years, and I have always wondered what it would be like NOT to work - to have more time for my family and myself, to pursue other interests. But now my thinking reflects much of yours, and the reasons I consider for leaving are not so much about me anymore. I do wonder and worry about the changes the profession is facing. And I am so glad for teachers like you that continue to make such a big difference in the students' lives.

    1. I thank you for the kind words. This is Sisyphus' job we have at times. Sometimes, it's the teaching that makes us feel we're getting nowhere. Most of the time, it's the other stuff, that stuff learners and parents never see.