In the last month, there were a plethora of highly publicized articles on why teachers quit, the most poignant came from the Atlantic’s Amanda Machado, whose title “Why Do Teachers Of Color Quit?” hit me square in the jaw:
That life-long aspiration is the last issue that teachers from lower-income backgrounds struggle with. There is something disheartening about working so hard to honor your family’s sacrifices, only to find that your job has not improved your family’s situation. Twenty-seven percent of Teach for America teachers of color are the first in their families to earn a college degree. Many more are the first to go to a top-ranked school. To people from our backgrounds, admittance to college is not seen as only an opportunity for intellectual pursuits. It is seen, as my mother always used to tell me, as “a great equalizer,” a way of escaping the lower social status and finally gaining the respect or financial success of the upper class.
I have a hard time telling others the path they choose after leaving. Right now, most working conditions, especially in our most disadvantaged, would deter anyone from taking up a lesson plan book. With the current tenor on “good versus bad” teachers, the assault and shutdown of hundreds of schools across the country, and the massive emphasis on deprofessionalization via wayward adaptation of standards and evaluation, accompanied by the already low pay and loads of paperwork for teachers, most people with easier, more profitable options would take those routes over teaching. Those of us who are teachers constantly get the head-shake, as if the profession we chose and our realistic idealism proves us insane or big-hearted, yet deserving of the problems we deal with daily.
Yet, I stay.
The children do bring me back to the classroom and I love what I do. I could deal without the inner politics, the constant barrage of people asking whether I’m going to administration, the constant comparisons to others, and any number of little things that don’t actually have relevance to my students. I could also get paid a little more so I’m not struggling to pay off college bills, apartment bills, food bills, baby bills, and the set of monetary issues that some mysterious benefactor can’t just solve away for me.
Job protection, my posterior. It’s nice to have an anchor when you’re trying to navigate a ship in a tornado.
Alas, many of us work silently in the background, and, despite this writing and advocating I do, I consider myself among my staff, not better than. Working for and caring about students and their learning takes broad, thick shoulders, and I consider myself fortunate to try, fail, and succeed for 10 months because those shoulders I carry aren’t mine.
Many teachers might see this as a job, and more power to them. Those of us who share a cultural background with the students we teach feel the burden of our ancestors, knowing what might / could happen if they don’t have someone holding them to a high expectation and building a caring relationship with them. Let all else fall under these pivotal pieces. If the systems we work under can’t support us in this mission, then those of us who leave have a case for leaving, which is why I respect it.
It’s just not my decision right now. This responsibility weighs on me more so than my bills do. Should I go, I know it’s because I either had no choice or made a choice to affect more kids positively. But excuse me for now: I have papers to grade. They’ll need to hear from me on January 2nd.