My teacher brain feels like a jumbled mess. At the same time, I feel weirdly calm. I’m trying to reserve judgement on my new school and school district. From all outward appearances, it’s a great place to work. People are friendly. They smile in the hallway. The administration and school board seem to say all the right things.
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then I get peeved for even thinking that. During every professional interaction I have, there is a little voice in the back of my head that pokes at my paranoia. Is she telling you the truth? Why would she say that? What are his motivations? Is this person trying to get information out of me? What parts of the picture am I missing?
Who thinks this way? It’s crazy!
I keep feeling like I’ve been conditioned. Like a dog who has been beat, I have a difficult time trusting people. I flinch, and I question their intentions. I retreat into the safety of my empty classroom under the appearance of working on planning and getting ready for the school year.
I didn’t used to be this way. When I was a new teacher, my optimism was obvious. I knew in my heart that the people I worked with were there because they had kids at the center of every choice they made. It was all about selling out for kids and doing everything we could to ensure our students were safe, cared for, and on their way to a successful future. I was wrapped in a beautiful sweater knitted in the best intentions by people who were honest and caring to the core.
Then one day something happened. I don’t remember what the first event was that made me stop and think huh, that can’t be right. Looking back there were so many. I found a flaw in the beautiful sweater, and just this one misplaced string lead to the entire garment unraveling before my eyes. Over the course of a 5 or 6-year period, my gullible optimism turned into something very different.
Through battles and tears, over the course of many months, I tried to find different ways to make a difference in the lives of kids—ways that wouldn’t be blocked by the people who cared for kids, as long as it served their own purposes. It sounds so silly. Trying to explain to my own children at home my frustrations, explain away my tears and anger when I was blocked again from doing something that would have made a difference for that one kid… I couldn’t look at my own children and tell them that I was going to give up the fight. I was fighting for them—their future was in that twisted, corrupted district, and they were headed straight for the school and the politics that were distorting my naïve view of being a teacher.
And then they weren’t. Thread after thread unraveled, and I eventually chose to give up the fight.
I believe that in order for students to be successful in school, they must attend school regularly. Common sense dictates that. Teachers are focused on the success of students, and they shouldn’t have to spend any of their time asking administrators and parents why some students are absent 15 or more days in a quarter or a semester. After going multiple rounds with administrators which finally resulted in a professionally-written letter (by me) to the upper administration and school board, I was informed that at that particular time, our district was more concerned with graduation rates than attendance rates.
The fight was knocked out of me. I had none left after I was metaphorically patted on the head and told to get back in line and stop asking questions. That is when a switch flipped in my head, and I knew my own children were not destined to graduate from a district where they would only be counted in the graduation rate and not as individual achievers.
I was out. The sweater had completely unraveled, and instead of being left with a beautiful pile of yarn, I was only left with frayed twine and an empty, let-down feeling in my gut.
It’s been hard to walk away. I feel like I have failed my students. I feel like I have abandoned them, and they will have to fend for themselves. Even though I may feel this way, I know there are plenty of opportunities for their success and plenty of educators who haven’t given up on the fight yet. I pray that my old students find those teachers and can navigate around the fray. Educational opportunities can come from bad situations as well.
As for my new students, I hope I do right by them. I’m collecting my own data based on my own interactions, not any secondary sources. It feels like I am in a good place. I am ready to heal and move forward.
So here I sit. In a new classroom. In a new district. In a new part of the world. All this “new” is exciting and invigorating, and I feel the familiar pull of making a difference in the lives of kids. I’m surrounded by people who are equally excited, committed to change, and ready to jump in head first. There is so much new that I’m happy to have left the old behind… and I will carry the hard lessons learned with me into the new.