Former teacher here, I started fresh out of undergrad. I lasted 2 years. It wasn’t a single moment for me, more a series of incidents or realizations that added up over time. A few of those included:
- I once did the math to convert my yearly salary into an hourly wage based on just hours spent working (not including all the money I spent to make my classroom workable). I didn’t get into teaching for the money, but there’s a certain deflation that comes from realizing I would have been better off working full time as a waiter.
- My school had 3 different principals in two years due to infighting and petty drama among staff.
- The director of the school told me I was hired as a new teacher because it was cheaper than hiring someone with experience
- My first year I did not even have textbooks, I was printing out hundreds of readings for my students every week just to have something.
- A parent accused me of being racist. I am black, the student in question was black, and 97% of the students in the school were black, so it just seemed unlikely to me that I was failing the student because he was black. EDIT: THIS INSTANCE DOES NOT MEAN RACISM ISN’T REAL. RACISM IS A WELL-DOCUMENTED AND WIDESPREAD REALITY THAT BLACK PEOPLE LIVE WITH DAILY. IT WAS JUST UNLIKELY TO BE THE CASE HERE.
- I was the only male teacher in my grade level. I was skipping lunch every day to catch up on grading and lesson planning, so lost a lot of weight during my first year. Staff meetings turned into a chance for all my colleagues to discuss my weight, when all I wanted was to get back to grading.
- I realized that my students needed someone (parent, etc) at home who cared, or whose caring didn’t force the parent to work 2 jobs and never be at home. No amount of lecturing, cajoling, or charisma from me was going to overcome a 12 year old telling me their homework was less important than keeping their younger siblings clothed, washed, and fed.
- Perhaps the nail in the coffin was when I took the LSAT and did well enough to go back to school for myself.
Edit: Thanks for all the responses. Since this is probably the biggest public platform I’ll ever have to discuss this, a few clarifications and edits:
- People are taking my comment about racism to mean that most claims of racism in the American school system are made up. To be clear, many studies have shown that black students are disciplined more on average than students from other groups, and there is no evidence that Black students behave worse on average. Further, these disparities are worst when it comes to discretionary infractions like “defiance” or “disrespect,” suggesting that there is a nationwide pattern of disproportionate use of punishment against black students. RACISM IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM IS A REAL THING, WE ARE NOT MAKING THAT UP.
- The school I worked at was a charter school, not a traditional public school. So when Republicans and Reddit users below say things like “School Choice is the answer!” I can only laugh. My friends working in public school had some issues that were the same as me, and some issues that were wildly different, but simply destroying public schools in favor of charter schools would not solve anything and would make many of our problems worse.
- For those who want the math: ~$31,000/yr, roughly 60-65 hrs/week (I was creating a curriculum for the first time, needed to plan lessons that were appropriate for students whose reading levels ranged from 1st-9th grade, teach that curriculum, and grade the students’ work), 9 months out of the year. Not including time spent planning during the summer and mandatory professional development and reorientation before the year started.
- Nothing I’ve written here takes away from my own responsibility for my failings as a teacher. Given the fact that most teachers get a Master’s degree at some point and have a long time as a student-teacher before jumping into a classroom on their own, I should not have expected to be able to jump in with no real classroom experience and thrive, and should have had a few more questions when I was hired straight out of undergrad with none of those qualifications. Alas, I was 22 and invincible, fresh with a bachelor’s degree and all the optimism and hubris that goes with it.