Toughing it Out

Sarah Fine, a fairly new teacher, is so overwhelmed and disheartened that she's quitting.  Statistics are fuzzy, but it's estimated that half of all new teachers will follow her before the five-year mark. Burnout is the most frequently cited reason:

But there is more to those numbers than "burnout." That term is shorthand for a suite of factors that contributed to my choice to leave the classroom. When I talk about the long hours, for example, what I mean is that, over the course of four years, my school's administration steadily expanded the workload and workday while barely adjusting salaries. More and more major decisions were made behind closed doors, and more and more teachers felt micromanaged rather than supported. One afternoon this spring, when my often apathetic 10th-graders were walking eagerly around the room as part of a writing assignment, an administrator came in and ordered me to get the class "seated and silent." It took everything I had to hold back my tears of frustration.

The teaching itself was exhilarating but disheartening. There were triumphs: energetic seminar discussions, cross-class projects, a student-led poetry slam. This past year, my 10th-graders even knocked the DC-CAS reading test out of the water. Even so, I felt like a failure. Too many of my students showed only occasional signs of intellectual curiosity, despite my best efforts to engage them. Too many of them still would not or could not read. And far too many of them fell through the cracks.

Bolded sentences are my "Amen!"s.  This year, God willing, I plan to be one of the half that stays in teaching, but I can't tell you how many dozens of times I've wanted to quit.  I especially sympathize with her comments about administration, who shuts down the majority of good ideas and micromanages the rest into mediocrity.  And yes, it is utterly defeating to encounter people who don't love learning, especially when you love it as much as she and I do.

Fine spends the second half of her article talking about how little respect her profession receives from the outside world.  My experience could not be more different.  I've had total strangers call me a hero upon learning my occupation, and my friends (those who aren't teachers themselves) are deeply appreciative as well.

In fact, it could be that  the only reason I'm still here is my diehard optimism: I love the thought of a class where ideas are shared and intellects are shaped, and no matter how unrealistic that idea may be, I'm seduced by the fleeting glimpses I've received over the years.  The student who exclaimed in discussion last year, "I love this class!  We get to talk about stuff!"  Inarticulate, spontaneous and sweet, those comments stay with me.  Maybe I'm a sucker, or maybe I just love what I do.