Leaving Teaching

An empty hallway before school begins. Summer 2020.

I never knew what anxiety felt like until I turned in the resignation for my teaching position. I have been contemplating a different path for months, wondering what else I can do. But pay is not the first thing to make me resign. Probably the main reason is how kids have acted this year. I am not blaming them; they’ve dealt with a lot this year. But it’s choked the life out of my passion. The other reason is lack of support. And, again, I’m sure administrators and the school board feel they are supportive. I have not felt aided by them. One more thing I should note: I teach at the high school I attended about ten years ago. Many of the teachers and a few administrators are still there. It may be that I should not teach there. But I know I’ll miss some of the people – my friends.

2016-2018

I have taught high school video production for three years. Prior to that, I long term substituted and student taught in social studies and English. I consider myself a teacher of five years. It doesn’t pass my notice that over 40% of teachers burn out by year five (Campbell). I hate joining that statistic. After the second week of teaching social studies, I thought I would be one of those educators who literally die in school. I loved what I was doing. I created connections with students. My department was supportive and offered a lot of advice. Life was great!

I applied to the social studies position after almost a full year subbing (filling in for various replacements who I replaced before someone else replaced me and then was replaced by me…). The reason I didn’t get the job was that I hadn’t student taught. From the Department of Education, I found conflicting reports that they could or could not waive student teaching if you taught for at least a semester. The next year, I student taught semester one and took an English long term sub position semester two. This teacher had retired mid year, perfect chance to fit in. And again, with an amazing department! Teaching English was where I felt the most helpful for kids. They told me that what I taught was actually helpful. They even enjoyed our poetry unit. I applied for the job. And was denied because they wanted someone with a master’s degree.

I felt let down. The English department cried after the principal told me he couldn’t offer the job. I looked for jobs at other schools. On one of the last days of the year, a parent came in and told me to apply for the video production (VP) job. I didn’t feel qualified, but I do enjoy video and teaching. I applied. And for the summer, I worked at the Rangeley Historical Society. While at work, the high school principal called and asked if I was serious about the VP position. He offered me an interview with the superintendent. Finally, I was accepted.

2018-2021

For two years I created, taught, and adjusted the curriculum. Then COVID hit. I was already experiencing student disinterest, but only in small amounts. Most kids took VP “for the credit” and expected an easy class. I think they were surprised when we went into the emotion created by various camera shots, angles, and movements. In any case, COVID accelerated the rate of student disinterest. It also showed how unsupported we teachers felt by administrations, school boards, and the community at large.

The biggest reason I’m leaving teaching: student disinterest, disengagement, and disrespect. I have one rule in my classroom: respect. That means no cell phones while I, or others, speak. Yet, so often, I have to remind kids about staying off of them. With COVID, I’m unsure that I can collect them all or make students place them in a common area. It would help if there were some standard that was upheld throughout the building. Yet, each teacher does their own thing. Even I am in favor of letting kids learn time management skills. I’ll let them be on their phone, just as long as they know that the projects are due soon.

Several times over this past year I have tried to engage with students and saw every face in a screen. At least, every face in the classroom. There are still students that are on the computer, 95% of whom I never see. They refuse to have their faces on camera. There are reasons for some, but I think the vast majority log on, say “I’m here”, and go about their day, logging off when class ends. Except for the few who forget and I’m stuck in between classes saying “*student name*, you need help? Are you there?” I call them the ever present absentees.

As I teach or provide time for students to complete projects, I feel alone. I wonder if my impact is even worth my time. I don’t feel that I have done a thing. Currently, with just three weeks left, I have 50% of my students failing. I am not proud of that. But I have also vastly limited the amount of work I expect and the quality. I understand we are dealing with a lot of mental health stress. We. Not just students, but everyone. I also know that just because it’s a little hard, doesn’t mean you give up. You gotta push through!

Some may argue that I should not lower, but raise expectations. I don’t know how that’s feasible. Will kids rise to the challenge? Ordinarily, yes. I’m not so sure this year.

I ask how kids are at the beginning of class. Silence.

I ask how kids want to spend the next class period. What do they want to learn? Silence.

I ask if anyone wants to meet with me on Wednesdays (which we have as remote days with office hours). Silence.

Always. Silence.

The other major issue is lack of support. As a new teacher, we have three years of probation. Yearly contracts. One aspect of education are evaluations. Teachers are evaluated by administration. Administrators by other administrators. I understand normal year evaluations. Something I don’t understand is why teachers are evaluated during COVID. We are teaching in-person and remote students at the same time, wearing masks, and expected to have the same amount of impact. Or, at least, that’s how it seemed to me.

One of the worst experiences this year was not an observation by an assistant principal (AP) and superintendent, but the conference held afterwards. This didn’t feel like a conference though, more like an assault. When I arrived at the AP’s office, he asked me to sit down and he’d be back. He wasn’t the only one to return. He brought the principal himself. And for twenty minutes, they questioned my logic for the class period and told me they were disappointed in the results. “What has caused you to go backwards in your technique?” they asked. Who are they to look at my teaching technique when they have not taught in the hybrid model? The principal has never even taught in the classroom? Why judge teachers in a brand new system? Offer them advice. Don’t double team them and tell them how disappointed you are.

For the first semester, every Friday I met with the AP and reviewed my lesson plans for the week. I felt abused. I felt like every move was scrutinized. I was even less inclined to visit the office. It seemed like every interaction with administration was negative. So, I avoided them unless absolutely necessary.

It isn’t just administration. The school board continued to “support” teachers, but they were only receiving good news and assuming all was well and good. But it was not well and good. Over the course of the year, I experienced the same anxiety and depression as the students. I lost interest in almost everything. I can’t seem to wake up without being exhausted, despite getting “enough” sleep. But I keep going, trying to give my all to the kids.

The best part is how people assume teachers are taking time off. I went to the doctor’s one day when my school was forced into total remote mode and overheard this old guy talking to a receptionist. “They get all summer off. And now they are at home doing nothing. Why don’t they want to go into school and teach? Teachers are so lazy.”

How do I tell my advisees who will become seniors next year? And how do I tell the drama kids, who I’ve directed for over three years? This isn’t on them. And part of me feels bad moving on. The other part knows it’s best.

Future

I don’t think students will suddenly re-engage when school returns in the fall. I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable with administration in the fall. Therefore, I tendered my resignation after months of wondering if it’s the right thing to do. I’m not sure where I’ll go next or what I’ll do, but I still want to serve society and educate people. I think my time in the classroom is done for now. This was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But I know, in the long run, it’ll be worth it. I need to feel successful. I need to feel that I am doing good work.

Published by Nick Bucci

Videographer. Photographer. Writer.

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