Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Once Upon a Time, I Wanted to be a Teacher

For me, one of the most frustrating things about my college experience was that I spent so much of it having no idea what I wanted to do. As a result, I spent a lot of time floundering, and a lot of money switching majors. I didn't graduate college until I was 27, where most of the people I graduated high school with were done when they were 22. They were on to careers and lives that I couldn't even begin to think about because I still hadn't managed to finish school. But then it happened, I had this great breakthrough and realized that of all the things in the world that I had bounced back and forth between, I always went back to this thought that I could be a teacher. It was the only constant in all of my floundering, and after spending a LOT of time with the kids in the drama department that I spend time volunteering with, I realized that it wasn't just what I could do, it's what I wanted to do. So I set out to teach. I literally put my nose to the grindstone, working 40 hours a week while going to school full time and finding space in there to sit down and do all of my reading and homework so that I could graduate with honors in an astounding 3 years for what should have been a 5 year program. I poured my entire life into this one goal, and when I received my diploma I thought to myself "I have finally accomplished something worthwhile" and from there I got.....nothing. No job in my field. No prospect of a job in my field. In fact, my state was cutting budgets left and right for schools and I found that instead of applying for open jobs, I was watching jobs get cut down to nearly nothing.

So there I was, a teacher with no one to teach, and I found that what few jobs there were within my area were being snapped up by teachers from other districts who had tons of experience and were laid off due to their own budget cuts. I found new teachers I had befriended constantly worried that they were going to be laid off at the end of the school year and left with no job prospects at all. I found myself wondering, why does anyone go into this field? Why was I so keen to go into it? I can't think of any other career where the low men on the totem pole have to worry every single year that they'll be laid off, and have to go to another school and start over where again, they'll be worried constantly that they'll be laid off at the end of each year. It's a thankless job, and at times it can be just as frustrating and difficult as it can be rewarding. It isn't a 9 to 5. It's a 24 hour a day job. It's a job where calling in sick is actually a luxury because you can't always get a sub, and if you can you still have to get up and write lesson plans for them so that your class isn't in chaos all day. It's a job where you watch your colleagues buy shoes for the underprivileged students in their classes, while parents and outsiders call them "lazy". It's a job where one or two bad apples ruin the reputation of the entire profession, and instead of parents asking "What can I do?" they ask "Why aren't you doing enough?" so that the uphill battle never ends.

And yet, I still wanted to be a teacher. A part of me still does, but when I look at the state of education, and the lack of value placed on being an intelligent and productive member of society, I'm not sure I have it in me to fight that battle for the rest of my life. Normally I'm a "Rise up, Fight the System!" sort of girl, but I've been unemployed or precariously employed for the past year and a half, and the idea of going right back into that where every year is a question as to where you'll be working the following year....I just can't take more of that instability. Plus, I watch my friends who are teachers constantly trying to do more with less as their funding gets cut to the bone, and at some point they're going to be teaching without any supplies at all and no one will fight for their sake because no one values education as an institution anymore. It's like every generation is more and more apathetic about the importance of knowledge and eventually it'll just be people lobbying against all forms of schooling. I want to fight the good fight, and I want to pursue the one goal that got me through college despite all of the work and exhaustion. I want to say "System be damned, I'm going to be what I set out to be", but the truth is.....I can't. Not only do I not have the opportunity, as more and more teaching jobs are slashed every day, but I don't have the capacity to tolerate the constant accusations of laziness, or delinquency, or a system that wants to pay based on how well your students perform on standardized tests despite the fact that the tests are biased and don't take into account disabilities of students. And beyond that, they don't take into account the sheer APATHY of students. The students who care so little about education that NOTHING any teacher does can pull them out of it, and their parents who feed that apathy. I've had students who do the bare minimum to be able to play a sport, or who don't care about anything outside of their iPod and their video games. No one talks about those students, who are fully capable but simply don't give a shit about anything. But my pay might be based on whether I can change that attitude in the mere 12 weeks I have them in class each trimester? I can't imagine such a world.

So I did....I wanted so badly to be a teacher. Now, with the state of the world we live in, I just don't know that I have it in me to do it.

1 comment:

kaceyk said...

Really well-written, and very true. Unfortunately. I feel exactly the same, and I have no answers.

Except- maybe we go teach in Japan where they actually respect teachers?