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Friday, March 1, 2013

The Cold Dichotomy of Teaching Disillusionment

I'm in my sixth year as a public school educator, and I don't know any teacher who hasn't wanted to do something else at some point. We all have our moments of doubt, even the most strongly called among us. Most teachers who are going to leave the profession don't get past their second year. This makes sense because for the whole first year they think, It's just this awful because it's my first year. It'll get better next year. 

But, for many of them, it doesn't get better the next year. So, they leave. Nobody really blames them. It's often the fault of poor support from administration, inadequate prior training for real classroom experiences, or some combination of the two. That's why teachers in Georgia don't get their first raise until they put three years in. Millions of dollars would be wasted on first and second-year raises.

Those of us who make it past that second year find ourselves in a unique position. We have invested quite a bit of time into the career, former students are beginning to contact us and express their appreciation, and the slower-than-Christmas rewards of our profession are finally starting to reveal themselves. We may be tired from dodging the bureaucratic nonsense being fired at us from the state DOE like baseballs on a batting range (or from not dodging it and getting hit square in the face), but we know that our job is a noble one. We know we are needed. If we don't do it, who will? The kind of teachers who make it past the second year are generally good ones with a strong sense of pride and a decent work ethic.

We love the art of teaching. The act of teaching. We don't love the politics and the drama. Sometimes we get overwhelmed and polish up our resumes. We are sick of being under-appreciated, sick of having spitballs blown at the back of our heads, sick of being micromanaged. But, our fantasies of quitting and doing some other job are interrupted by a nagging in our over-developed consciences: Nothing else you do will ever matter as much as this. This is the only way you will ever leave a legacy for humanity.

Nobody teaches for the money, but anything else that might be considered even close to having the same level of philanthropic value as teaching pays even less, and let's face it - much less and we'll fall below the poverty line. Anything that pays more feel exploitative after dedicating years of your life to a cause as altruistic as educating our youth.

We are afraid of letting down students we don't even have yet. Of course we're not going to breech a contract, but waiting until the end of the school year doesn't make us feel any better because we worry about students we haven't even met. Upcoming students who would be in our classrooms next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

So, what do we do?

We stay.

We stay and fight against all odds to maintain our intrinsic motivation to teach. We stay, and sometimes it slowly kills us inside. Sometimes our students suffer because we are unfulfilled, but we rationalize it all and say that they are better off with us - with experienced, disillusioned people who value education but have lost the joy behind it - than with inexperienced, naive, younger millennials who are ready to charge in with their iPads and fight the Man.

But maybe they're not better off with us.

Maybe they're not at all.

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