Fifty-percent of new teachers leave the classroom after just five years. Sometimes it’s burn-out. Sometimes it’s realizing you don’t really like teaching. Sometimes it’s moving on to your next calling.
I’ve already completed my struggling-blindly-treading-water-help-me first year, and in mere weeks, I’m about to conclude my still-struggling-but-thank-goodness-I’m-so-much-better-at-this second year. I have had my share of highlights, lowlights and lessons taught to me (and hopefully a couple learned by the students). Like every other passionate teacher, I work to close the achievement gap. But as a new teacher with almost 2 years of experience, I find myself at the crossroads of my classroom career. My 2-year commitment with Teach for America to my school is about to end. I must seriously consider, “Do I want to keep teaching?”
Yes. And no.
I never expected to really like teaching. When I joined Teach for America, I figured I would work my butt off for two years and teach as well as I could, but soon return to the journalism industry. I was even ashamed to introduce myself as a teacher (For months, I prefaced it by saying I used to be a journalist for USATODAY.com.)
So it took me by as much surprise as it did my family when I began looking into graduate schools of education on the East Coast. Even though I am already enrolled in a graduate program at Western New Mexico University, it would be years before I graduated, and I was already envisioning myself teaching in an urban school on the East Coast where I would be closer to my family. I pictured myself working my way up to becoming a reading specialist and then, one day, an administrator at a public or charter school.
Barely realizing it, I was planning my career around the classroom. It wouldn’t be in the school or community I have grown to love over the past two years, but it would be in a school and in someone else’s high-need community. As guilt-stricken as I feel about leaving all my beloved students, I was a bit relieved knowing that I would be teaching (and learning to teach) other students that needed plenty of nurturing (and high-frequency word drills).
But then, the not-so-expected happened. On the last day that applications were due, I applied to be a program director for Teach for America. Last month, I was offered a position in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. This job wouldn’t give me my own classroom, nor would it give me a set of elementary or secondary students to instruct. This time, I would be teaching first- and second-year TFA teachers, as well as supporting them, problem solving with them, and guiding them in every, and any, respect to the classroom. This was not part of my original vision for life after School Year 2006-2007.
But after serious consideration, I realized that this was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse—much like the chance I scored two years ago to teach on the Navajo Nation. With this job, I may not be able to influence 300-some lives at the level of depth I have been able to as a school teacher, but I will be able to influence countless lives by supporting their teachers.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying every joyful, tearful, frustrating and awkward moment of teaching.
(And there are many… like last week when my English class couldn't stop marveling (or giggling, or asking questions about, or drawing pictures of) my huge zit. And yesterday, when I made my big, burly middle schoolers march down the hall silently in a single-file line five times until they were able to walk and not talk at the same time. As one behavior specialist who happened to observe us approvingly said, “That’s repetition until submission.”)