we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us

Why You Left Teaching

March 6, 2014

Ok, not you reading this, but this is a letter to me, to remind me why I left teaching. 
 from actually one of my most favorite days of teaching..notice, no kids.

I don't regret making the decision to go to law school one bit - as much as I complain about reading and being stressed (which I don't actually think is that much), I really like it, I think it's interesting, and the only reason I complain is when it's frustrating that I don't understand something I think I should (cough - leg reg - cough). 

Anyways, I was a teacher for six years and sometimes I think I miss it, but I know I was really miserable. There were definitely parts of teaching I really loved -- e.g. designing curriculum and planning innovative lesson, the problem was that for me at least, they always flopped. That's the problem with teaching a subject noone wants to take (I'm convinced people aren't interested in learning a foreign language until they're in their 20s) and yet they are forced to take even as it is disguised as an elective. I think Bonnie from Life of Bon is probably the most popular blog I have read from someone who teaches High School and also blogs honestly about it, but even reading her blog a lot of things stick out as totally different. For reference, I taught in NYC, then in Westchester and they are always trying to be on the forefront of the ever-changing Education Revolution. 
A couple of things to know about me
- I taught Spanish. 
- I am a BIG believer in project-based assessments (instead of quizzes/tests I graded students on multi-step projects)
- In my first school I taught the entire GRADES of Spanish -- most High School teachers have 1 or 2 preps a day (they are preparing for 1 or 2 different classes per day - i.e. 9th Grade English and AP English) so that means they plan 5-10 lessons a week. Last year specifically I taught 4 different preps PER DAY which meant I prepped 20 lessons per week.  The year before that I taught 9th & 10th grade Spanish, and AP Spanish and within my 9th & 10th I differentiated for native and non-native speakers which meant I taught 25 lessons per week.

So without further ado, what I really think about teaching:

#1 - Be innovative -- but do it the way we want. 
 desks were only like this because it was Regents week. Otherwise, NOT ALLOWED!

- It was literally NOT ALLOWED to have the desks in single-file rows in my first school (this is why whenever I see pictures from Bonnie's classroom I'm like, omg I can't believe she's allowed to have her desks like that!) and even to put them into pairs frowned upon (they wanted them in groups...collaborative learning! Who cares if this means its impossible for you to get control because they're all talking to each other ... unless you're a teacher we want to suck up to...then it's OK)
- In my second school, they thought student-based learning meant a powerpoint and worksheet ... which basically went against EVERYTHING I believed in as a language teacher. 
- ^^ This was also problematic in my second school because all of the teachers I worked with (although they were so nice) were so old school, focusing on grammar (even when they didn't think they were focusing on grammar) and all of the reasons why you hear so many people say "I took Spanish for 4 years... I don't remember anything."

#2 - Administrators ARE THE WORST
I'm not sure what happens to teachers when they become administrators (if they were ever even a teacher to begin with), but they do all the things to teachers that they tell teachers not to do to students. 
       (a) Make sure class is engaging, don't just lecture. 
              -- then you go to a staff meeting where all the administrator does is lecture at you. 
       (b) Always start with a few positives, then a negative when speaking to students/parents
          -- then you have an observation and they only tell you negative things. (& lest you think "maybe Kim was just a crappy teacher who deserved bad feedback" .. my mentor last year who was so great and had been teaching for 25+ years, they observed her and the feedback they gave her was that ALL THE BLINDS ON HER WINDOWS SHOULD BE AT THE SAME HEIGHT ... SERIOUSLY! they couldn't just say, wow ... great lesson... nope, had to say something negative).  
# 3. It is always the teacher's fault
At least that's the message I got. 
From parents - it's YOUR fault my kid is doing poorly. Not the kid's fault for never asking a question in class, never staying after school, never completing homework or doing a project ... nope, it's your fault.... It's not MY fault that I didn't check to make sure my kid was doing his homework, or call you when I got the progress report grade or made sure he stayed after school.
From administrators - if you have an 80% pass rate they will leave a message in your inbox asking "What can I do to support you"... Well, you could support me by disciplining students when they act up in class, and by not encouraging me to change my grades so that it doesn't reflect poorly on your school score.

#4. The sheer amount of  work. 
 grading, grading, everywhere!!
- Lesson planning
- Grading papers
- Emailing parents
- MEETINGS (the fucking meetings! what the hell!) 
- Cleaning classroom
- Making copies
- Professional development (I spent a lot of time on professional websites like edmodo and in education twitter chats and reading blogs trying to become a better teacher, especially when I was the entire language department at my first school). 
- Learning the material! (I taught AP Spanish my fifth year and it was sprung on me TWO WEEKS BEFORE the year started -- on top of 9th and 10th grade Spanish -- so I had to do all the reading for the AP Spanish course basically as I was teaching it). 

I stand firm in my conviction that in any other job you would have a secretary/assistant to help with all the bullshit and at least in other countries they allot a LOT more time for doing all this stuff. In my first school I had approximately 1:50 to do all of that stuff that was included in the school day, so think twice before you say teachers get off so early -- even if they go home, they're probably still working.

#5. The amount of work you put in doesn't necessarily pay off -- at all. 
I cannot explain how many times I spent HOURS (literally HOURS) planning amazing lessons (toot, toot) only to go into class and have all the kids whine that they didn't want to do it, and then have a day I went in and just conjugated verbs on the board and made them take notes they'd be like, yeah today was better. Which left me to question why did I bother spending so much time if my students were not going to spend the same time.
This is 100% an example of how education is failing our students -- they just want to do the ROTE memorization and note-taking stuff and complete a worksheet because they can do that and there is no apprehension of failure. Unfortunately, in LIFE, you FAIL sometimes. How many people learn a language without fucking up all.the.damn.time. I tried to drill this into their head, but unfortunately I knew they weren't going to have me a teacher the next year and not everyone is as progressive as me when it comes to language learning (too bad because noone gives a flying fuck if you conjugate the verb correctly in the preterite tense when you're speaking to them ... at least in my opinion). 
#6. You always have to be "on"
Long gone are the days when a teacher could show a movie in class before a break or just because the kids deserved a break .. the FEAR of showing a movie and having an administrator walk in on you .. too much. 
You have a day where you don't feel like talking to anyone? Too bad. 
Feeling down? No one cares. 
Death cramps? Suck it up. 
Your dog died? Step into the hallway to cry. 
Your boyfriend didn't come home? Check your phone in between classes. 
Now that I've written the longest essay in the world about why teaching sucksss
Why do I miss teaching?
#1 - It was never boring. I never had ONE day in 1,080 days of teaching where I was sitting around like, man, I wish I had something to do
#2 - Teenagers are funny. (but they can also be cruel)
#3 - Vacays -- sorry, not sorry. Most teachers don't become teachers for the vacation time, but find me one who says she doesn't love it and I'll eat my foot. 

Anddd that's pretty much it. So, I think I made the right decision? 

Amen and adios!


  1. my husband was a teacher - he taught kindy (mainly) but also all the way up to grade 6. like you, he loved it but was tired of all the politics, the blame he got and also the government kept cutting funding so he got like, 30+ kids in his class with very little help and they refused to fund for more TAs. then there were always strikes going on (and strike pay sucks ass), threats of strikes etc... so he left.

    he's now doing something totally different (I.T.) and loves it but he does miss the kids. he was such a great teacher.

    -kathy | Vodka and Soda

  2. YEP! You sound like you made the right decision for certain! I don't think I could be "on" all the time - such a drain on an introvert like myself!


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