Friday, July 10, 2015

Do What You Love

I submitted my resignation letter yesterday. The deadline was today, July 10. I’ve known that for several months and have been dreading that day because I knew I probably still wouldn’t have a job lined up by then. But if I let the deadline pass, I’d have a penalty on my final paychecks. I definitely need the dollars to be as numerous as possible. So I turned in the resignation on time.

Yesterday morning I was in tears from stress and sadness. All my education was to help me prepare to be a teacher. And I’m a damn good one. I really believe I am. To walk away from something I am good at, something stable, something secure, and not know where you’re going after—that’s a scary experience. I prayed and cried to Heavenly Father to give me peace and comfort to know it was the right thing to do.

My amazing fiancĂ©e was very supportive via text while he was at work. He told me he was not worried about income, that he could support us, but that he was worried about my sanity and well-being. He said he would rather pay for me to certify as a personal trainer and make half the amount I do now, if it meant I would be happy. He told me he loved me and supports me no matter what I decide. And he said many people have already been impressed by me, and that he was sure I would find something. He asked me, “How do you feel about teaching for one more year?” I said, “I feel like I want to cry.” And he replied, “There is your answer.” He was one answer to my prayers.

Going into the district office was a pretty funky experience—dreading that for a few months and then walking in to actually do it. A lady had a bit of a difficult time finding a form for me. But she did. It took me all of 30 seconds to fill out. I handed it back to her. She told me she was sad to lose me (she doesn’t even know me, but OK), but that I need to do what I need to do. I told her it was a bittersweet time because I don’t have anything else lined up yet, but that I felt like I needed to do it. She said, “You know, sometimes we just have to follow our gut. I think you should take the leap.” She was another answer to my prayers.

I walked out of the district office. Six years of teaching, a stable job, consistent income, and good insurance, all gone in just a few minutes. I fought back tears as I walked back to my car. I breathed slowly in and out, having all sorts of feelings overcome me about what I had just done. I had just taken a really big, scary step.

I called my mom and cried a little bit to her. I ran some errands. After getting home a couple hours later, I got a phone call from the employment agency I had visited a couple weeks prior. The man on the phone said a mortgage company would need a technical writer to help draft some training lessons and programs. It would be around 120 days, maybe more. And I would get to say what kind of money I wanted. I was very enthusiastic about it. He said he would forward my information to them. A third answer to my prayers.

Regardless of whether I even get an interview for that position, it reminded me that everything will be OK. I will find something.

Now, to switch gears a little bit. A lot of people are asking me, “Why? Why leave teaching? Don’t you get, like, summers off?” Well, if I’m leaving in spite of having summers off, you probably don’t need to ask what it’s like.

The first reason I am quitting is this. Here’s an example of a typical adult conversation I’ve had about a hundred times. There are variations, but they pretty much go like this.
Person: So what do you do?
Me: I teach junior high.
Person: Oh wow. Oh… woooow.
Me: *nod knowingly*
Person: Do you like it?
Me: It depends on the day.

And that’s if I’m feeling positive and generally good about life. Otherwise it goes like this:

Person: So what do you do?
Me: I teach.
Person: Oh, what do you teach?
Me: Junior high English.
Person: Oh, nice! Do you like it?
Me: Not really. I’m thinking about switching fields.
Person: *insert generic understanding comment here*

I took my job teaching in order to teach—not for the money. I’m sure that surprises everyone, because teachers are so well paid! But really, I thought it would be fulfilling, and I’m not afraid of a challenge. But when I can’t even have a conversation with a stranger and tell them even half-honestly that I like what I do, I feel like that’s a horrible way to live. I want to respond that I like my job. Especially if I don’t make much money. I would rather be fulfilled in life than make money. I can budget like nobody’s business.

The other reason is that my passions have changed. Of course I still love reading and writing. But I love health and fitness. I found in the past two or three years of teaching that all I would think about throughout the day was my workout after work. That was what I looked forward to.

There are so many others. I could write forever about teaching.

Did you know that teachers…

Fulfill the role of parents?
Whether it’s because parents are working multiple jobs, can’t read themselves, or just don’t care, we are the ones to have to step in and care because nobody else will.

Actually plan lessons?
That’s right. I have a goal in mind, based on a core curriculum chosen by politicians, and I make a plan to get us there. I have spent my Sunday afternoons for five years making sure my lesson plans for the week were done.

Take time to grade?
Whether it was 200 essays, narratives, argument papers, or 95. I took my time giving those kids real feedback. Guess what they did with it?

Are kids’ first lines of defense?
There are people on multiple levels who care about these kids. But if we aren’t perceptive enough to notice something wrong with students, and bring it up to the counseling office, or talk to the kids ourselves, they could go without help for the rest of their schooling. This includes learning disabilities, behavioral disabilities, emotional trauma, and everything else.

Will be paid partially based on student test scores?
Do I even need to talk about this? You’re going to pay me based on my students’ ability to do advanced analysis when they can barely understand a young adult text, or write me a complete sentence? Things they’ve been taught, but haven’t practiced, or don’t care about? Or how about the students who didn’t eat breakfast that morning? Or the ones who stayed up playing video games all night? Or the ones who have to go pick up siblings from school, and babysit them afterward, and can’t do homework? Or the ones who are more concerned with whether they’ll have dinner than homework? Or the ones who come to class high? Or the ones you invite over and over again to come and get help, but they don’t? What about the ones who click “C” on every single question, or take a nap instead of do the test because they can’t read, and they’re tired of failing? You’re going to pay me based on student achievement when there are countless factors over which I have absolutely no control?

In Utah will max out around $67k per year, with a doctorate degree and 17+ years of experience?
There are fields where the entry level salary is higher than that.

Are the most organized people on the planet?
I have to make sure students are in their seats, on task, have a pencil out, keep their binder with them, and write homework in their planner, take roll online, and that’s just the first five minutes of class. Then I have to make sure everyone has a partner, that everyone is on task, that everyone heard the directions, and remember that Susie needs to go to the bathroom when Michael gets back. I have to anticipate the next activity, transition to it smoothly, have a method for getting papers turned in, rules for when to sharpen pencils, and a system for what to do when kids misbehave, without making them feel like complete fools in front of their peers. I have to remember that Jonathan turned in that assignment late for when his mom asks about what happened. I need to report discipline issues to the office in a timely fashion, and have a record of what steps I took independently. I have to have things ready for when kids finish early. I have to have a plan in place for when kids don’t get it. I have to catch kids up when they were gone, because they won’t do it themselves. I have to remind kids of due dates, have copies ready to be passed out, and somewhere in between everything else I have to do, allow opportunities for extra credit and makeup or late work.

Are severely underappreciated?
Our PTSA has really stepped up their game the past couple years, but it’s nowhere near what happens in Utah County, and probably on the east side of Salt Lake. Where teacher appreciation week is a big deal to parents out there, parents in west Salt Lake don’t even know that such a thing even exists. If teachers get things for teacher appreciation week, it’s because other teachers on social and morale committees took the initiative to prepare for it.

Are protected, even if they’re awful?
Teachers’ unions make it very hard to get a teacher disciplined or fired. There’s less accountability in public schools than in the private sector. To know that I am working my butt off to always be better, to make sure kids understand, to monitor and manage my classroom, and others… aren’t… really bothers me. There’s a pretty high level of mediocrity, and it could be that teachers don’t care anymore because of some of the reasons listed above.

Care more than kids do?
No matter how many times throughout the week I repeated, “Come in the morning. Come after school. Come in advisory. Come get help! I will help you!” They didn’t come. I even heard that they sighed and moaned if I went out of my way to request that their advisory teacher send them to me. I know that probably doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it is. It takes time to see who needs help, to write a note, to deliver the notes, and then to remember what they need when they come in. It’s all on me. They don’t know what they’re missing. They didn’t catch up on their absent work. They don’t care. I do. And why should I, if they don’t? Are you exhausted with me yet?

Have to send their students to be tested on content they’re not allowed to see?
What kind of sense does it make to have a curriculum map for each term, and to be told that the students will be tested on it, but not know what types of questions will be asked? And then when the kids take the test, they had questions on poetry, which was supposed to be covered (according to the map) in a different term. If my students are going to be assessed, I want to be able to prepare them for it. Not CHEAT. PREPARE. The tests they take should be based on what I’ve taught them. I can’t teach to your test if I don’t ever see the test.

Have to be extremely flexible?
Like you don’t already know, a school is chaotic. Schedules get bent all the time. There are fire drills in the middle of state testing. There’s award assemblies that take half your first class away, but not the rest of the day. Kids get called down to the office. Announcements take away class time. Massive changes happen every year. It’s almost impossible to get settled in a routine because public education is always changing. Always. And I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it is challenging. We should always work to be better, but we need to strike a balance between progressing and completely changing everything all the time.

Have lots of meetings?
Yep, before school at 6:30 in the morning, for some of them. After school on Fridays. At the district in the evenings a few times a year. Parent IEPs during prep periods and after school or at lunch. Meetings upon meetings upon meetings.

Always have to be learning?
You have to keep your certificate current by being educated. Whether you attend new technology trainings or sign up for classes, you always have to be educated.

Are rewarded only based on budget?
If you agree to be on a committee, or you do anything above and beyond what you’re required to do, you get a very small stipend based on what’s been allocated. If you’re lucky and have a great principal, you’ll get a cute plant or a gift card or a loaf of bread at faculty meetings or end of the year barbecues, but that’s only because he’s planned those types of things for you. Not because it’s like a private sector job where CEOs and managers give out flat screen TVs and iTunes gift cards at Christmas. And you have to appreciate the small things, because really, it’s all you get, so it has to mean a lot.

I mean, I really could go on forever. I’m just tired. I am tired of never getting appreciated or rewarded for everything I do. I send out reminder emails and texts, and I still get three homework assignments back out of 34 kids. I update grades every day, and the only kids or parents who check are those who don’t need to. I meticulously maintained a website where I put almost every assignment and announcement and link my students would ever need to be successful, and most couldn’t even log into it. I gave class time to do homework, and still less than half of my class would complete it. And I’d put so much time into creating a valuable, meaningful assignment, but they didn’t care or try. I’d pass kids in the hall and tell them to come work on something, but they wouldn’t come.

I know that I had an impact on some kids, but I only know that from the ones who were kind and mature enough to write me a letter and let me know. And I am grateful for those kids. They are a lot fewer than you might imagine, especially out in Kearns.

So yeah, I have fall break, winter break, spring break, and summer break. Yes, I have good insurance. Yes, my salary goes up every year. I am done at 3:08 in the afternoon (but most of us leave later). I do get to manage my own area and choose what I teach. Sure, I get to “have a positive impact on kids” (the ones who take the time to tell me). I get to share good books and teach kids how to write (and also write myself). I do have a great boss and coworkers. I do get a lot of sick days. And I am damn good at what I do. But it’s just not enough anymore.

I am ready for a new challenge—hopefully one where I will be challenged and exhausted, not taken for granted or underappreciated, but be rewarded and recognized for my efforts. Because as selfish as that sounds, it’s important to me. I just want to love what I do. And maybe someday soon the conversation will go like this.

Person: So what do you do?
Me: I write a fitness column. OR
Me: I am a personal trainer. OR
Me: I create nutrition plans. OR
Me: I am a health coach. OR
Me: I teach fitness classes. OR
Me: *insert easier, cooler job here*
Person: Oh, cool. Do you like it?
Me: I love it!