I walked out of the classroom at the age of 26. I had only been teaching for four years and realized I had a change of heart. I was getting married, moving to New York and in the past, in order to pay for college, I had had so many jobs that I thought it would be good to continue to pursue one of those for a second career. Maybe continue auditioning? I loved doing voice-overs. Maybe continue working in the spa industry? That payed really well when I was student-teaching. Why not? My husband had a stable career that gave me the flexibility to re-evaluate. I am not afraid to tell you…I was tired of teaching.
I was teaching outside of Chicago in the Western Suburbs in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood making around $30,000 a year (that was the starting salary ten years ago in the suburbs). Perhaps all the running around to audition for t.v.commercials, creating theater with amazing women, shampooing heads at the salon, helping my dad start his business AND teaching middle school Language Arts and Reading to make ends meet became too much (heck, reading that was exhausting). But I had a lovely scenario in the classroom. I had no more than 20 students in each of my five classes, I taught what I liked and as a team with my colleagues. There was always pressure to “teach-to-the-test” but I compensated with bombarding the children with novels for homework. I also went in early in the mornings to do breakfast/cafeteria duty and stayed late coaching Poms. I even taught an ESL class to adults in the evenings. All those “extras” added up to me making those $30,000.
I had the occasional knuckle-head parent that didn’t show up to pick up a report card or the parent that flat-out called me a liar for accusing her daughter of breaking the dress code (after much arguing, my student yanked the phone from my hand and admitted to her mom that she indeed was wearing the hot pink shorts she wasn’t allowed). I worried about the student that never had clean clothes and had a learning disability. I worried about kids bullying kids like him. I became available to a Spanish-speaking family that had a suicidal daughter. I worried about her late at night. I worried about my student who was to tell her very Catholic parents that she was discovering that she was gay. But the hardest part of my job was taking in 7 or 8 boys that did not speak English to one of my regular seventh grade classes and teach them something while still teaching my regular curriculum to my other students. These issues were not “extras”. There was no stipend at the end of the year for any of this.
I took those “bilingual” students in and we made it work. BUT I can’t imagine having that situation and teaching more than 30 students with no aide. I can’t imagine teaching without air conditioning or heating. I can’t imagine teaching students with empty bellies even though they qualify for free breakfast but can’t show up on time. I can’t imagine teaching students without books and basic supplies. I can’t imagine teaching out in mobile classroom excluded from the rest of the school. I can’t imagine being evaluated over test results that those “bilingual” kids with no knowledge of the English language HAD to take! I can’t imagine teaching in a school with no sense of community. I can’t imagine dealing with gangs and fights in the hallways…oh wait, I did attend schools like this as a child…in Chicago.
Today, my own child is one of 16 students in his kindergarten with two teachers in the room. Both teachers are fully certified professionals. My child’s school has a vegetable garden that the children tend to. My child has P.E., music and art at least three times a week. My child’s school has a playground and the little ones have recess three times in their seven-hour day. My child will start taking a language class (Spanish) in the first-grade. My child has access to computers, iPads, and Smartboards. His school has a library with thousands of books, 3 daily newspapers subscriptions and many research computer programs to choose from. The science teacher with the Ph.D comes out every warm sunny day and every blistering snowy day to do traffic duty. Everybody cooperates. My child’s school has high expectations and mandatory meetings for the parents. I had a mandatory new-student orientation meeting that lasted two hours, a picnic lunch with my son and his class, and a three hour kindergarten-parent meeting that included signing up for volunteer work both in and outside of the school-all in the first week of kindergarten! Next week I have curriculum night. I walked out of there exhausted yesterday, proud for the opportunity to give my son this private education, but always with an ache in my heart as I think, “Why can’t all children in America have this? If only every school in America was run like this. If only I had such an experience.”
But not every parent lives on a set salary, not every parent can organize days to take off from work, can work from home, can afford babysitters, or have one parent not work at all. Not every teacher can work for that extra stipend and come in early to monitor early drop-off or hang out with the child after school because no one was able to come and pick him up on time. Not every company allows you to take time off because your school needs you. Not every employer allows you to work from home, or are simply sympathetic because you are a parent. So what is the answer? What are we to do? What is going on in Chicago is not just the teacher’s problem. It is not just the parent’s problem. It is not only the government’s problem or the tax payer’s problem. It is OUR problem.
I know I will teach again in some way. I like to think that by writing this blog I am contributing in a small way. I wasn’t afraid to tell you that I was tired of teaching because it is one tough job. But it’s in my heart and I still care and think about my old students and still worry about education as a whole. I care about those in Chicago. I care about those in Little Village, in the South Side of Chicago, where little children step into those crowded classrooms everyday with hope and excitement, just wanting to learn and perhaps later, just wanting to teach.
I support CPS teachers and I support teachers all around.