Let me start by saying that I am, in fact, a teacher. Not only am I teacher, but I am a high school teacher who is currently teaching in the same county I graduated from. So while I may be naive to other counties and states and even countries, I do know a thing or two about the county I’m in. And the county I’m in has just been ranked as one of the best in the state and county which, to me, is blasphemous. We were rated one of the best because of our test scores. But while our test scores may be high, those test scores come at a cost. While I love my students—most of them, at least—I do plan on pursuing other career ventures because honestly, teaching is not what I thought it would be. And let me tell you why:
1. Lack of Support
Teachers lacking support within their home schools is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. I’ve spoken to numerous other teachers, both within my school and around other counties, and all have expressed one thing: they want and need more support. We as teachers need to know that at the end of the day we are being taken care of. And I’m not just talking about the union because honestly, my union representative is a fantastic human being. She absolutely knows what she’s doing. I’m talking about the support of colleagues, mentors and administrators. Where are they? I know personally I don’t feel supported at my school. I was in a situation this year where another teacher had a problem with me and was quite vocal about it to students. In the end, I was written up for my professionalism. What in the world? When I asked why, the administrator handling the situation couldn’t give me a good answer. But it is lack of support like this, lack of support from people who are supposed to be in charge that angers me. As people in charge they are supposed to be there for us. They are, for lack of a better word, supposed to take care of us. Teachers all over the county I’m in are being systematically intimidated by top-down, authoritarian rule designed to ensure compliance.
2. Testing, testing, and more testing
I am so fucking tired of state tests and I know I’m not the only one. We are urged constantly to teach to a test. County tests, MSA’s, HSA’s, PARCC, the SAT, the ACT—whatever. At every grade level we are always being forced to somehow merge our regular curriculum, in which we are given little wiggle room, with testing strategies and vocabulary. My students, god help them, have the retention of a goldfish sometimes. And that’s not calling them dumb—they’re not. But in an age where their cell phones are an extra appendage for them it’s hard to get them to remember my name let alone hundreds of vocabulary words. We are expected to seamlessly thread in different areas of testing in order to ensure that students are prepared not for things they need to pass the semester but things they need to raise our test scores. Never are we commended for the high grades students receive, but I can fill a folder full of emails commending us for our high test scores.
3. Low pay
I am tired of people telling me that if I really love a job that pay shouldn’t matter. Um, do you have student loans? Do you live by yourself? Do you have bills? Do you live in a magical land where things don’t cost an astronomical amount of money and you have all the time in the world to sit around eating truffles not thinking about whether or not you can afford groceries without your account being overdrawn? Please. Tell me where this mythical land is because I want to live there. Teacher’s pay is a joke for what we do. I have the fortunate situation of being in one of the highest paid counties in my state—and even with that I’m still struggling. I do not have a family. I do not have a partner or spouse. I am on my own. I frequently am checking my bank account with despair because between rent, student loan bills, other bills and basic living necessities—I’m struggling. Teachers are always working overtime—we plan at home, we grade at home, we stay late afterschool, we come in early and yet we are one of the lowest paying professions around. We are the people who HELP the doctors and lawyers and NFL stars graduate and more on to their next position—YOU’RE WELCOME? I am in no way relating myself to a doctor. For god’s sake they save lives. But so do we. We have students who come to us and tell us things because they need help. We have students who tell us stories that would make the strongest person cry. We save lives, too. As I stated, I am a single female who has no family so my struggle could be worse. But when I do choose to start a life with someone, will this pay be enough? Will I be able to take care of children with this amount of money? Probably not. And no matter how much you love a job and despite the fact that yes, we get UNPAID summers off, at the end of the day if you have nothing to live off of, how are you expected to survive?
4. Student Morale
There is nothing sadder to me than my students who come in and right off the bat tell me, “I can’t do this—I know I’ll fail.” The confidence between when I was a student and students now is unmistakably different. I have students who refuse to do the work because they’ve been told by those same tests I referenced before that they aren’t good enough or they aren’t smart enough. Students who are at a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level have made it to my high school class—that is sad enough. But those same students, whose confidence is already low, are pushed down further because of some stupid standardized test. No student is the same and no student is equal and I have yet to meet a superior that can explain the importance of a standardized test—who are these tests helping? Certainly not my student who sat in front of me and told me that because his reading score on his last state test was so low he didn’t think it made sense for him to try at his work in my class. The fact of the matter is this: the current educational system is punishing students for not being good enough. It is our responsibility as adults and as their teachers to help them grow into the adults they should be and instead of helping them discover their unique talents the system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.
5. Common Core State Standards
A couple months ago a picture was released. It was of a math problem that an elementary student had to complete. In this picture, the common core way of solving the problem was shown. And it is bullshit. I recently read an open letter from a teacher who had decided to resign from her English teaching position. Rather than try and word exactly how I feel about the common core just yet, I’ll quote her first: “The emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right” answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed to be a proper education.” AMEN, SISTER. As I’ve said before, no student is the same. If we as teachers are expected to squash the creativity of students and make sure every student is learning the exact same way then the common core is the way to go. But for me personally, I thrive on the creativity of my students. I love when they come up with their own ideas and write about their own topics and are interested in what they’re doing. That, to me, is teaching. We are guides and we should guide are students to achieve a level of understanding within themselves. Students should be able to think for themselves and use the knowledge we give them to come up with the correct answers.
I’m not sure how much longer I will stay in this profession—I’ve already started looking into other career paths and other degree choices. I love seeing the light bulb come on in a student’s eyes and I love hearing them get excited about learning. But being in a county that has lost sight of those values and are trying to turn my students into mindless robots as, in turn, caused a hatred for the profession. A word of advice to those who wish to teach: tread lightly—make sure you’re ready for something that is different than when we were in school because I promise you that no amount of exhilaration of your first job can shadow the inevitable cloud that will soon overcome your excitement.