leaving teaching


Teacher

Teacher (Photo credit: tim ellis)

When I moved up to Canada from the United States, I had a vague plan of someday returning to my teaching career. The effort required to flip my Iowa credentials and obtain a license to teach in Alberta, while time-consuming and somewhat mindlessly strewn with the odd hoops, wasn’t onerous.

But that was nearly five years ago. Observing my daughter’s Canadian public education, I don’t see many differences between Alberta specifically, or Canada in general, in terms of the delivery mode or the education machine. The government at the provincial and federal levels are indifferent to the true purpose of public education. They treat the enterprise as an afterthought in terms of funding and seem disinclined to following the lead of truly progressive education leader countries like Finland or South Korea. Parents, by and large, look at school here the same way they do in the states. First, its cheap daycare and second, it’s fine as is. Raising taxes to provide better services, or heavens forbid, decent wages/benefits for educators is universally regarded as unnecessary. Unless the yearly budget cut axe falls on their child’s school and then it’s the fault of government for not allocating properly.

The school year is riddled with pointless days off dubbed “professional development”, but in reality are just busy work days filled with oddly planned workshops or presentations that more often than not have nothing to do with what teachers or students really need. The year has been stretched to the point where summer (which is in short supply anyway up here) has shrunk to a point that it’s in danger of disappearing completely.

There isn’t quite the widespread disdain for the teaching profession here that there is in the United States, but I have been privy to more than one acidic conversation between mothers where all the old tropes about teachers having too cushy an existence have been trotted out and sagely agreed upon.

My Iowa license expires at the end of the year. If I want to preserve it in any way, I have to do something like yesterday to make it happen.

“You don’t want to go back to teaching,” Rob pointed out when I brought up the license thing again. “There are other jobs in the world. You can do anything, you know.”

And while it’s wonderful he thinks so that’s not quite the reality. I can’t do nails, for instance, nor can I keep books or operate a forklift. Most of the growth industry up here right now surrounds the tar sands. Heavy physical labour. Specific operational skill sets. Brutal shift work. Travel.

“They have an opening at my plant,” Rob told me recently. “How do you feel about data collecting and aggregating?”

As he read me the description, I am sure he could feel my entire brain glazing over.

“Well,” he conceded, “maybe not.”

My dream job has come open once a year at the city’s small museum. I nearly applied last summer but Dee was still a bit too small to do the latch key kid thing. It will be just my luck if the job doesn’t come open this coming fall and even if it does, I know I am vastly overqualified because they are really looking for university students to fill it. It’s teaching, sort of. The museum has an educational history program for the grade four’s and five’s. The position was helping set up and train the volunteers and provide on site supervision. Curriculum, training and kid wrangling. Any one of those things I can do in my sleep after twenty years as a middle and high school teacher.

And it’s history!

I love history. I should have been a history teacher but they are a dime a dozen in the States because coaches need jobs to justify their being kept on. I can count on one hand the number of Social Studies teachers I knew who weren’t male and who didn’t coach a sport. The only other teaching position that was more coach/man heavy was physical education.

Now that I am contracting with the city to teach yoga, I have a few actual contacts, but the job needs to come up again. But that’s another post for another day.

Today is about not going back to the public school classroom. I haven’t quite been able to find the right words to explain it. Sure, there is the general teacher hate and disdain for the profession, but there is also the reality of what it means to go back and do the job.

People don’t really get what a teacher actually does and why it is such stinking hard work. A writer/blogger friend of mine recently ventured back into the classroom and wrote an excellent post explaining what I have not been able to quantify for myself:

I have been spending nine to ten hours at the school each day, not because I am being paid to do that but because that is what I needed to do to get a handle on the job, the classroom, and the curriculum.

And, like so many years ago, it makes no difference. I can wear myself out, but it doesn’t matter. I wanted things to be different but they are not.

So I will go into school later, come home earlier, and take better care of myself. This is just a job.

I want it to be more, but it’s not.

This is why I didn’t want to go back to teaching.

And of course, she is totally correct. Nothing about doing the job has changed since 1987, the year I went into the classroom for the first time. Parents are still parents. Sometimes helpful but mostly in the way. Children are still children. Whether they are ten or 13 or 17, what makes a child a child is the same as it always was. Properly raised children are still a joy to teach and badly raised ones are still mighty pains in the ass and obstructions to other children’s learning. Administrators are strong and hands off, trusting that the teacher is competent and providing whatever back up they can, or they are micro-managing brown-nosers whose main concern is the next rung up the ladder.

Sure, there is a bit of play in the grey areas. Where human nature is concerned, there is never really pitch black or snow-white. But mostly, teaching is a job and when that happens – you are done.

And I am done. My last stint was helping drop-outs retrieve credits in order to graduate. They were petty criminals, gang members and misfits. Some were pregnant and entangled with bad boy baby daddies. Some were addicted to drugs and unable to get through an entire day without slipping off to a nearby park to smoke a bit of weed. Some just didn’t fit because their strong personalities and native wit made it difficult for them to just “play the game” and get out. I battled counselors, vice-principals. my own colleagues and even the kids themselves in an effort to do my job. I did it well. But it was just a job. I resented the added work. I was tired of the games I needed to play in order to do it. It was soul killing.

“I should get a job,” I told Rob, during our most recent discussion about my going back to work.”You shouldn’t be the only one slogging off to a soul killing job everyday.”

“The difference is,” he replied, “is that I am paid handsomely to have my soul crushed.”

Teaching is not a handsome financial opportunity to be sure.

So, I will teach yoga. I will write. I will “house keep”. Maybe I will snag that sweet little museum job in the fall. But the door on public school teaching is now officially closed. I have left that building.