Sunday, September 02, 2012

Why I Left the Classroom - Part One

This is not a post about screenwriting, other than to mention that it was inspired by a really good documentary I just watched called American Teacher.

This is a post about teaching. More specifically, about why I'm not anymore. And this post turned out to be super long, so I split it into parts. I'm just warning you so you can bow out now.

First of all, this was a really great documentary. It gives a good glimpse of what teaching is really like from the perspective of teachers who are dedicated to the profession. There is a section where some who have quit gave up their reasons for leaving, and it made me want to share mine. I have this forum here, so...

My mom was a teacher and she always told me I'd be a teacher too, so naturally I wanted to do everything except teach. Wait, I should amend that. My mom wasn't just a teacher, my mom was THE teacher. At my class reunion, half my former classmates asked how she was doing. Everybody loved my mom, and I mean EVERYBODY. She was the kind of teacher you remember forever, the one who inspires you to do better with your life. At my last game as a member of the school's marching band, when I was supposed to be getting cheered from the crowd because I was a senior, your parents came down to stand next to you and share the honor. There was no sharing. Everybody in the crowd was so happy to see my mom, I don't think they noticed I was there.

The thing is, I never minded. It was actually a great way to make friends. I'm her daughter, which automatically made me interesting and sometimes cool.

I'm telling you, she was that good. It's been a lot for me to live up to.

I say "was" not because she's dead, but because she retired. She probably would have kept going, but she saw the same things I see in the system. We both left for many of the same reasons.

I was going to be a reporter, except it turns out that I hated being a reporter, so I started teaching because it was a job I could do and not hate, and it would give me an income while I figured out a new plan. I never intended to be a lifelong teacher. When I found screenwriting the next year, I was absolutely sure I would leave this horrible profession I'd chosen as soon as I could.

Because there is one truth every teacher will agree on: Your first year as a teacher will be the worst damn year of your life.

These kids like to test you, and you don't know what the hell you're doing, so they win all the time. My very first day - I looked like I was about 12 at the time - a girl who was now taking freshman English for the third time gave me attitude. I asked her if she wanted to take the class for a third time.

"You ain't gotta be sharing my business like that!" she said.

I told her if she was ashamed of failing classes, she should stop failing classes. And for some reason, she decided she liked me after that. She ended up passing English that year.

That's how I roll, kids. No crap in my classroom. You meet my expectations or you don't get the grade.

But I still remember that first year with horror. I bribed them with playtime on the football field.

That was in North Carolina, which is a non-union state. Now, people have different feelings about unions, but I'll tell you what I know. In North Carolina I had to pay extra for dental and vision insurance, and I made a starting salary of $24,000 a year. In California I made well over twice that much (which comes to proportionately more even when you add in standard of living)  and my benefits were terrific. So, you can rag on unions all you want, but I appreciate being able to get contact lenses so I can actually see the board. Also, eating is nice.

Anyway, time rolls on. I took over the school's yearbook and I loved it. Then I moved to California and took over that school's yearbook too.

American Teacher makes a big deal about how much time teachers spend working, and that's certainly true, but it doesn't have to be as bad as the film makes out. I certainly graded papers at home and stayed after a lot, especially in the early yearbook years, but by my fourth or fifth year I learned how to get things done so most days I could walk out the door at the bell. I loved teaching yearbook, I loved teaching English, I loved my boss, I loved my room, I loved my kids. It was fun - talking about my favorite subject every day with these really wonderful teenagers. I have a picture over my desk even now of my favorite group of seniors crushing me at the senior picnic, all drenched from a water balloon fight. I loved every class I've ever taught. The kids are amazing.

So why did I quit? That's part two, which I will post tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. The problem a new teacher has is not unlike what a rookie cop goes through. It seems like they're the only ones who are new on the job. The criminals seem to be very their jobs; at dealing with the police officers...

    And, the students are experienced at giving you guys a hard time... :)


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