Confessions of a Teacher

At My Breaking Point: An Interview With An Educator Who Nearly Quit

At My Breaking Point: One Educator Reflects
This year has pushed so many educators to their breaking points. One of the most passionate, creative, and loving teachers I know very nearly quit her job. She’s an English Language Arts and reading specialist at a Title 1 middle school in a rural, coastal town in Washington. She spent most of her time in hybrid, vacillating between remote and in-person depending on cases and state guidance. While she has almost made it through the year, she is now seriously contemplating her future in education. 
What has COVID and pandemic teaching brought to light for you? 
This was how my pandemic school year started: hybrid from the very beginning, skies so full of wildfire smoke the air was toxic to breathe, and a 7th-grade boy I knew taking his own life in a most horrific fashion.
For me, the pandemic shed light on education’s true purpose in this country. Public education is the cornerstone of a strong democracy, right? Well, one need look no further than the state of our democracy to see how well public education has been functioning.
We still have a system that sorts. You, to menial labor. You, to higher education. You, to prison. I want to start public education over. I just have no idea how, let alone the resources or clout to make that happen. 
Why did you consider quitting your current teaching position this year? 
Even though quitting mid-year would have harmed  students, I very nearly did. The proverbial writing was on the wall. My colleagues were snapping and my temper was short. I was forgetting basic things like how to defrost my windshield, what my lesson plan was, or how to work my coffee maker. 
My mental health suffered. I had daily panic attacks that my administration didn’t seem to care about. There was the utter exhaustion of trying to keep kids six feet apart, and the emotional toll of watching them be snapped at by colleagues. I felt a looming dread that I would miss a sign from a kid and we’d lose another to suicide.
Despite all that, I stayed for the kids. I realized that even me at my most mediocre is better than the disruption the students would get. 
What do you wish your admin did to better support you? 
I wish my admin had checked in. I wish they had asked, “How are you?” I wish they had listened, and instead of suggesting that I buck up or grow a thicker skin, that they just heard me out and said, “That sucks. I’m sorry.”
Going into this year, I had so much faith and trust in my admin. Now, all that trust is gone. I needed empathetic leadership and someone to say, “I see how hard this is on you and I care.”
I wasn’t looking for solutions. I knew this was an impossible situation and that making the best of it was the best we could do. But being made to feel like I was overly emotional or not strong enough–exactly how admin made me feel–did nothing for my feeling of workplace safety.
We say all the time, kids need to feel safe to learn. Well, teachers need to feel safe to teach. I didn’t this year. Not physically, definitely not emotionally. 
 
What do you wish your admin did to better support you? 
I wish my admin had checked in. I wish they had asked, “How are you?” I wish they had listened, and instead of suggesting that I buck up or grow a thicker skin, that they just heard me out and said, “That sucks. I’m sorry.”
I wish my admin had checked in. I wish they had asked, “How are you?” I wish they had listened, and instead of suggesting that I buck up or grow a thicker skin, that they just heard me out and said, “That sucks. I’m sorry.” Click To Tweet
Going into this year, I had so much faith and trust in my admin. Now, all that trust is gone. I needed empathy, leadership, someone to say, “I see how hard this is on you and I care.”
I wasn’t looking for solutions. I knew this was an impossible situation and that making the best of it was the best we could do. But being made to feel like I was overly emotional or not strong enough–exactly how admin made me feel–did nothing for my feeling of workplace safety.
We say all the time, kids need to feel safe to learn. Well, teachers need to feel safe to teach. I didn’t this year. Not physically, definitely not emotionally. 
Well, teachers need to feel safe to teach. I didn’t this year. Not physically, definitely not emotionally. Click To Tweet
 
Has this year made you reconsider teaching in general? 
Absolutely. I got into teaching to make a difference–to change what I saw as a flawed institution from the inside. My grandmother, a passionate educator, had this saying: “Put up or shut up,” meaning you either need to do something about something or stop complaining. So, becoming a teacher was my way of putting up. 
In grad school, studying to become a teacher, I made a commitment to a kind of teacherly Hippocratic oath: above all else, do no harm. I vowed that even if I couldn’t have a positive effect on a student, I would avoid having a negative effect on one. After all, I was joining the system to fix it, wasn’t I? 
I’ve seen now that public education’s purpose is to churn our economic cogs for the capitalist machine and warehouse children so their parents can work in the same machine. I’ve come to see public education as fundamentally corrupted through and through. I no longer think it’s possible to save it from the inside and our students deserve better.
What’s Next? 
So, how are you holding up? Have you experienced something similar? 
 
Has this year changed your outlook on education? What is your role in our systems? 
 
How do we move forward from here? 

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