Not The Reasons I Won’t Be Coming Round
Been looking from outside, I’ve been watching
But I don’t know what to say/
Changed the old backdrop, same face
But not who it used to be/
Trying to get out, not getting, thinking you're everything
You said you wouldn’t be
I completed three hundred percent of my TFA commitment. I beat the 0-5 year departure curse. But I resigned and I’m leaving. Around the blogs, around the policy world, around the union halls, folks cast about for the reasons why people like me do things like this.
This is why I didn’t.
I wasn’t prepared.
I wasn’t, but that’s not why I’m leaving. I got through the don’t-know-what-I’m-teaching-and-don’t-know-how-to-teach-it-anyway phase, figuring stuff out, thinking about why things did and did not work, selecting areas to get better continuously, and working really really hard. It’s this last part that bears at least some mentioning. My lack of specialized, focused preparation – a lack that is close to near-universal for those of us manning classrooms in the world of high need urban English Language Learners – put some serious stress and strain on the work. Much like the Saturn 4-door I’ve used to get from the 415 to the 408 daily lo these many years, my engine’s fine, my transmission works, but man, I got a lot of miles on me. A lot of miles. This the endless travel over the dashed lines of self-improvement; the grind of figuring out how to do this job well, because my god, there’s too much at stake here to continue being so half-assed and poor at all this. I can still run, but I’m muddy to the windows, and you don’t want to use me to pick up your prom date.
I’m not successful.
I am. By any reasonable measure I’ve been an educator worth the dollars transferred electronically to my checking account each month. It’s worth noting perhaps that teaching is generally bereft of meaningful acknowledgement of success and accomplishment, and so it is difficult to provide any measures for success. To the extent that we have any, I realize I’ve reaped a great deal – leading PD, speaking, talking to reporters, pie-charts, student essays – and that the extent of this reaping is probably disproportionate to the work I’ve done.
I’m not supported.
I don’t even know what this means, but it’s something I hear teachers say all the time. I’m not sure the people who proclaim the not-supportedness could even articulate the nature of this not-supporting or how it could possibly be rectified. For the record, I’m not not-supported. Never have been.
I can no longer stand to work with the disastrously declined youth of today, nor their apathetic, uninvolved families.
I’m not paid enough.
Okay, so this work is exponentially more “important” than many other undertakings that are far more handsomely compensated. We all should be paid accordingly, and those of us who do the work well should be paid at least as well as your above-average plumber. That said, I’m paid pretty darn well relative to my peers, and certainly well enough for an unmarried fellow whose biggest expenses after rent continue to be whiskey, books, and college loans. Benefits? Got em. Even used em twice [1. vaccinations for S. America adventure 2. separated shoulder hedge-diving on Geary Blvd]. No complaints.
I really want to work at KIPP.
This is another one of those things I hear teachers say frequently, and more often than not it prompts an immediate, and probably unfair, response: Burnt-out? Fool, you gotta be on. fire. first. then maybe we can talk about burnt-out.
I think I was on fire, once, and maybe most days still am. If the flames are less high and maybe less intense than they once were, it's only because there's a different type of fuel burning now. Still, the kids are, in the words of Don DeLillo, "an open wound of need and want." There is no free time, no mental energy, no chunk of your finances that cannot be poured in that gaping wound like the most potent of Hydrogen Peroxides, a pouring that fuels the kind of consumption that only reinforces the pouring, justifies it, encourages it, emboldens future pourings and the expansion of the pouring into a variety of other areas. This is the root of the famous many-hats cliche, the thing so many of us simultaneously relish and decry about this work. I'm not happy unless I'm putting the best product in front of kids, but I'm not necessarily happy in the constant construction and revision of that product. I'm not happy unless I use work hours 80-82 to take kids to the District All-Star Basketball Game, but I'm not necessarily happy working hours 80-82. I'm not happy unless I'm being the teacher I see in my head, but the process of finding that guy and living as him no longer makes me happy.
Is that burn-out? If you can connect the dots, feel free, cuz I don't know how to chase my tail on this anymore.