“You’re done, aren’t you? I can see it in your eyes. I’ve seen a lot of good teachers get that look. It usually means they are done. Please tell me you aren’t done.”
One of our amazing educational aids asked me that on a Friday morning after a particularly bad week. The weight of Tennessee’s broken special education program, the feeling of failure due to the inability to help one of my kids in the middle of a mental health crisis, and a DSC call on top of my normal stress were crushing me at that moment.
I couldn’t breathe. The mask wasn’t helping, and I had to get myself together to teach for the next 7.5 hours. Only I couldn’t get myself together because the expectation was to teach and be engaging. And that felt like the least important thing I should be doing when I had so many kids in crisis and no way to help them.
The broken systems seemed to be cutting my kids and me all at once, and for the first time in five years, I realized I was bleeding. It wasn’t just little paper cuts I could brush off, but big deep wounds that started five years ago when I made my first DSC call and watched my kids struggle to learn to read because they didn’t have access to the right tools for how their brain worked.
The cuts got deeper and wider with every weekend and weeknight that I worked beyond my contract hour with no additional pay. I watched my friends lose loved ones and realized that time is valuable. I looked at my contract and realized that I agreed to work set hours, but I would need an additional contract day to complete all the expected work. My back was broken and snapped from bending too far as the divide between the classroom and the policymakers stretched wider with every press conference and email.
I had been doing what was best for my kids at the expense of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health. And yet, the systems that are out of my control were still failing them, and I was bleeding out and broken from trying to fix it all.
So on the fifth anniversary of my job acceptance, I resigned. That wasn’t planned. I actually talked to my admin two weeks before.
It was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had, and she accepted it with love and grace. She encouraged me to get the mental health help I really need and left the door open if I ever felt called back into teaching.
But I didn’t fill out the paper until two weeks later. Then I cried while I told all of my coworkers because the amazing people I work with have been the bandaid that has held me together on the hard days. And I cried when my student told me I was a great teacher because I know that through the grace of God, I am a great teacher. But only for 9 1/2 more days. Only 9 1/2 more days of loving these amazing kids. It was never the kids.
I don’t know what is next. I am giving myself May and part of June to heal, grieve, and pray about which door is next for me. Maybe teaching is a revolving door, and I’ll walk back in. Maybe I will be a teacher, but I won’t be teaching in a public school or a school at all. I honestly don’t know what is next, but I do have peace in this decision and I know that I answered the call to teach and that it has not been wasted.
I have loved over 125 kids in my five years. I have danced with them and taught them to read. I have helped them fall in love with word problems and mathematical patterns. I have made mistakes, gotten messy, and sat in a peace circle to build community. It’s taken me five years to believe that I am a good teacher. I will write down the lessons I learned and the tricks that I developed to hopefully help other teachers not end up with the look in their eyes. Plus, if I ever do walk back in, I want a cheat sheet for myself. I may just use this space as a keeping place for my stories and lessons learned.
In the meantime, I would love your prayers for the end of this year and for what is coming next.