Friday, January 4, 2008

I wish it were an option

A few years ago I made a decision to leave the classroom. Although I wasn't sure it was for good I was pretty sure I would never be in front of a group of MY students ever again. And to be honest, I was happy to do it. I loved teaching. I got goosebumps countless times when I knew, for whatever reason, that I drove something home to the students. I would be standing and delivering (I really didn't do that much, I was more of a project facilitator than a lecturer) and I would see the lights come on in their eyes and I knew I earned my money that day. I had kids who had been turned away from everyone else, or who had turned away themselves, become stars in my class. I believe it was a combination of the content, the environment, and a good dose of "I ain't putting up with your crap you little over-confident under-educated 15-year-old" directed from me to them that created the atmosphere where they could settle down and succeed. Kids with straight D's and E's (remember when failing was an F?) would get their hands on a computer in my class and I would lead them to great projects that meant something to them as people and wondrous things would happen. Then, I left. For a number of reasons I think, but none more so than I couldn't stand some of the kids. Not even really my kids. Something happens when a student becomes your student. Even if they don't like you or care about your class you know them, and hopefully have their parent's ear, so most of them hop when you say hop and stop when you say stop. But it was the hallways, the lunch room, the smoking pot in the stairwell right outside my classroom that really got to me. It was when I realized that the administration at the best school in the district didn't have a clue what to do or the time to do it. Pack 3,000 students into a school that was supposed to hold just over 2,000 (how having a school with 2,000 teenagers ever sounded like a good idea to someone I will never understand) and the admins just never stood a chance. They were overworked, sometimes hardly qualified, and I just couldn't take it anymore.

Now, I wish I could go back.

Why? I miss the kids. I run into former students all the time. That happens when you live in the same town where you taught. That was one of the things I liked most about living across the street from the school, I knew I would see them and I thought that gave me some extra ownership of the whole process. I could say that I lived here and I taught at the school and people would look at me differently. It was nice. I miss building relationships with kids, "good" ones and "bad" ones. I got some kids to straighten up, I lost some kids who were used to rolling over people because they were smart, nice, or white. Yeah, they used that to their advantage. I hated that most of all. But the ones I got to I really developed lasting relationships with. I still have them emailing me. That is nice too. I like knowing I had a hand in getting them into good colleges, preparing them for the real world. I never lowered my standards for a single kid but I modified my expectations for each student. That was hard to do. But I loved it. I miss those A-Ha moments. Like I said, goosebumps. I miss MY ROOM. Man, my classroom was awesome. Ever walk into a classroom where you just know the teacher can't wait to leave at the end of the day or doesn't care one bit for the space they use? Not mine. I covered my walls with personal items, student work, anything to add interest to the space. I wanted the kids to know that they were coming into a place that I loved being in. Most of the time. Yeah, I could go on and on....

Why don't I go back? First, money. What a pitiful excuse, but I can't think of a more important one. If I went back to teaching I would be putting my families future, the future that I envisioned for us, in jeopardy. Not like mortal danger or anything, but there is only so far you can go on a teacher's paycheck. How sad!!!!!!! It isn't like I am pulling down the gonzo bucks in my new gig at a major university - it is about equal to what I would have made at the same salary over a 12-month span, not the 10-months that teachers get paid. But, it is guaranteed 12 months of money. I wouldn't have to hope that some summer work would show up. Granted, I was always really good at finding summer work at school, but it was never guaranteed. Now, I know I will have a paycheck all year. That is a nice safe feeling. Plus, the retirement is about 1,000x better. I wasn't planning on stashing away much cash as a teacher and the pensions were pitiful. This will give me enough to retire on.

Second, like I said, there is only so far you can go as a teacher. I knew that if I wanted to move upward, and I think everyone should want to move upward, I would have to move on. The biggest reason for me wanting to leave the classroom really was the fact that I wanted to help more students. At most I only had the opportunity to help the students who were enrolled in my classroom. After I left to become a technology coordinator I was in a position to help all the teachers, and by extension all the students, in the school. Now, I have the ability to possibly affect the teaching and learning across the nation. Literally. To continue working out of the classroom at the county level I would have had to become an admin, and if there is one thing about me that I know it is that I do not want to be an administrator. I want to continue in instruction because that is what I have always been. In no way do I see myself spending all of my time disciplining misbehaving students and dealing with moron parents. Yeah, I said it. Moron parents. If you have ever been in a classroom you know what I mean.

In my new life I can move into all sorts of other things, teaching being one of them (but at a higher level) but it will all be instructional in nature. I can earn my Ph.D., start speaking or writing, become an expert at one of my various passions. None of that seemed possible when I was in the classroom. Your whole life is devoted to the classroom when you are there. It is a never ending process of days, nights and weekends. No time for Ph.D.'s there as far as I could tell. Yeah, I know some people have made it work, they are far better than I.

So, I wish I could go back but I realize I can't. And it makes me sad.

No comments: