At the end of 2019, I quit my full-time teaching position because I realized that in order for me to live, I would have to stop killing myself for a job that wasn't worth dying for.
For months, I felt tormented because I know without a doubt what type of person that I am versus the person I was becoming. I am naturally a giver whether that means giving of my time, my knowledge or of myself. I am always searching for opportunities to be of support and assistance to others, so as cliche as it may sound, all I've ever wanted to really do was save the world or at least inspire a few people on my path.
When I first started teaching, I found fulfillment each time that I was able to help a student start from where they were, endure, overcome, and travel the road towards where they were going. I cared and nurtured each child, even the most challenging ones, with love, patience, and persistence. I saw many successes throughout my first few years and overall I felt that I had finally found my footing and where I needed to be to live a purposeful life.
Then just like with most dreams, I eventually woke up. You see the thing that comes with knowing who you are, is recognizing the moment when you are no longer yourself.
It seemed like each year, I started to see a different side of the system that I was playing a part in. Beyond the stress and unrealistic expectations placed on us as teachers, I often questioned whether I was really helping my students or just participating in the system that was leading them towards a winding road of failure.
Just like many of us, I took on the task of fighting endless battles. Drowning in paperwork, spending 40 out of the 50 minutes per class trying to encourage my students to try, to want more for themselves, or for a start---pick up a pencil. I went day in and day out correcting behavior, vulgar language and gestures, preventing altercations, and calling parents or finding translators that could.
I was taking work home daily and watching my son's disappointed face every time I said "I can't...not right now". Conference periods weren't enough because there was team planning, parent contact, meetings, grading, and the task of covering substitute teacher-less classrooms. All the while, I was still working on part-time endeavors to supplement my teaching income that barely covered my bills and still grieving the sudden loss of my mom.
Each year, it seemed like the students were catching on to the system. They figured out that even if they were several grade levels behind in reading comprehension, fluency, and spelling, even if they still used their fingers to count on in middle school, and even if they turned in 1 assignment or several, they would still be passed along. Some of my awesome and pure students figured out really soon that their peers were having fun dishonoring themselves, their teachers, and their classmates without real consequences. In turn, they started to question the true value in being "good" themselves.
Understandably, I know that most of these expectations of miracles come from people within district, local, or state offices---from people that have never stepped foot on the campus, spent time with the students, or with the teachers except to talk about numbers. Because that's what it started to seem like, that every student was a number and our job was to produce great numbers from those numbers regardless of external factors or intrinsic motivation. So when asked the question of "why the students continue to fail", my response is because "they haven't yet chosen to succeed."
My role as an educator is to provide necessary tools and an environment where each child CAN be successful. I can't force them to read, instead of spending all night on their phones. I can't make them study or take their education seriously. I can't even force them to see the value in education or how people fought and people like me are still fighting this endless battle to give them an actual chance at life before it's too late. All that I can do is model through my works and my life how everyone can be successful against all odds IF he/she wants it bad enough.
So there I was, driving to work one day with tears in my eyes, putting on my worn-down cape in an attempt to save at least a handful of children or at least save myself. I sat in my classroom with my students that were reading and comprehending on a 1st grade level sitting next to students that were reading and comprehending on a 5th grade level, but were all expected to embrace the rigor and excel at a 7th grade level mandatory curriculum and state assessment. In that moment of reflection, I decided that I could no longer suffocate myself within this war. It was time for me to breathe.
For now, my role in education isn't over, but instead I'm searching and finding my place in it. My conscience wouldn't allow me to keep being apart of the problem---not for the check, not for my comfort zone, and not for my fears. I've been spending a lot of time lately taking care. I took the biggest leap of faith by walking away from a job that was solid. Yet, I've opened myself up and in turn God has been pouring so many blessings and opportunities in my lap that I hadn't even sought.
What I learned from the passing of my mom, was that her life was a book of experiences for me to learn from. I learned that time was limited, no job (or MAN) is worth your peace, and it's important to spend time with those that you love while you can. So as I return to myself and replenish my peace, I plan on still inspiring, still guiding, and still being an advocate for what students truly need. I am still fighting this battle, just on the right side of it this time.