Tag Archives: Teaching

The “Tough?” Decision to Stay in Education

Recently an award-winning educator made a difficult decision to leave teaching after 6 years. You can view the entire Washington Post article here. I can empathize with Josh Waldron. At more than one point in my career I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” I even strongly considered taking a one-year leave of absence to teach at an Amish school just for a change. However, the potential loss of health insurance for my family during that time kept me from going that route.

Back to Josh Waldron. He addressed five key areas/issues in education.

  1. Tear down the hoops. In other words, teachers are spending far too much time on unnecessary tasks that supposedly monitor growth and performance.
  2. Have a plan for the future. Quite often schools are simply in survival mode and are not planning for sustainability. This has quite a bit to do with teacher salaries, curriculum, etc.
  3. Scrap obsession with flawed assessments. I hear you loud and clear.
  4. Build a community that supports education. More on this later…
  5. Fairly compensate educators. See #2.

While I completely empathize with Josh, I feel as if I need to present another viewpoint in support of staying in education.

1. Recognize the hoops and make choices. Let’s face it, no matter the industry, a worker will most likely face “hoops”. These are seemingly benign tasks meant to satisfy the whim of a person or group that sees a particular need. Are they frustrating? Yes. Are they necessary? That’s debatable. When I left the classroom after 15 years and headed for the school library world, I expressed my concerns to my principal. I felt as if I was never with my class…in my classroom…focused on learning. I looked back in my plan book to count the number of uninterrupted five-day weeks during my last year in the classroom. I’m talking about five days in a row with no standardized testing, no convocations (sorry, Ronald McDonald), no 2 hour delays for professional development, etc. During that particular school year, I counted exactly four uninterrupted five-day weeks. I’m sad just thinking about it eight years later. But I recognized my growing frustration with those “hoops” and chose to leave the classroom for the library.

2. Have a plan for your own future. If you can’t see yourself in education for the long haul, do what Josh did and get out while you are still young and marketable. I made some big changes during my career, but they all involved staying in education. I chose to return to night school and summer school after 5 years in education and  earn a Master’s Degree in elementary education. At the time, I was able to earn a higher salary with a Master’s. Also, my first teaching job was in first grade. I knew I’d go nuts staying in that grade forever. I patiently waited and was able to move to a 4th grade position after seven years. I loved teaching 4th grade. But during my 8th year of teaching 4th graders, I started to lose that spark. I recognized it for what it was and accepted it. I chose to leave the classroom after 15 total years, got a second Master’s Degree (online while continuing to work) and switched to the library position I currently hold. Embrace change. You might surprise yourself.

3. Recognize that there will always be obsessions in education. It seems to be an unsaid rule that there will be obsessions for the latest “tricks of the trade” in education. After 23 years in education, I’ve witnessed that proverbial swinging pendulum. Remember the old portfolio days for educators? I think it was in the early to mid-90s when we had to develop portfolios as educational tools for educators and students. Guess what? Two years ago I had to build a portfolio for my yearly evaluation. Best Practices, block scheduling, open classroom concept, independent study, curriculum mapping, Common Core, etc. The list of obsessions could go on forever. Testing is the current trend. Our days are filled with acronyms…NWEA, ECA, ISTEP, AR…and on and on. I just keep telling myself, “This, too, shall pass.” However, in order to see a trend go by the wayside, a person needs to be willing to stick it out. If that’s not for you, get out now.

4. Build a community that supports education. I feel fortunate in this regard. I am in a conservative community that, for the most part, values education. Do we see more parents at a basketball game than at parent-teacher conferences? Yep. At the high school level, do we have a very active parent athletic booster club but no parent-teacher association? Yep. We certainly have our shortcomings. However, on several occasions, I’ve had parents come up to let me know they are praying for our schools. I am thankful.

5. Fairly compensate educators. This is an age-old issue that will most-likely never be solved. I currently hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s Degree in Elementary education, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology specializing in school library media. I will most likely never earn more than $65,000 per year. That is a fact. But you know what? I knew that fact and accepted it when going in to this profession. My wonderful husband has helped me realize that I should never complain (it’s a Biblical thing, too). Look at the perks of my job:

  • bad weather delays and/or cancellations
  • professional development
  • at least 8 weeks off in the summer
  • 2 weeks off at Christmas
  • 1 week off for Spring Break
  • current contract hours are 8:00-3:30

My husband is in the water-quality industry. He has a good job working for a small business owner. He enjoys his job. However, he has to go to work even in a travel emergency. He’s only gone to a few professional development workshops during his 20+ years with the company. And after these 20+ years, he currently gets a little less than 3 weeks off per year for vacation time. I am not going to complain. We have a family insurance plan through the school, and I’ve been able to set money back for retirement. However, if your demographics and spending needs are forcing you to live paycheck to paycheck with a teacher’s salary, get out now. If you want to stay in education but make more money, look at going into administration, technology, or move to an area of the country where the cost of living may be more feasible for you and your family.

Thank you, Josh Waldron, for your article and your opinions. While I was reading it, I was nodding my head in agreement the entire time. But then I realized that, if I was so much in agreement, why was I still in education? I needed to do some self-reflection. After really giving it some thought, I know that I am exactly where I need to be at this particular point in time. And it’s perfectly okay.

 

Currently reading: More Than This by Patrick Ness

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The Best Christmas Present Ever

On Thursday, December 21, I received the best Christmas present ever of my professional career. Even as I think about it now, I turn into a big pile of goo.

I taught 4th grade before becoming a librarian at the high school. One of the benefits has been seeing the last group of former students of mine grow and mature into wonderful young adults. One student in particular stands out. He was a little Amish boy who didn’t want to be in school. His dream, at the time, was just to be by himself out in nature. He would have loved to try out the survival skills needed to be Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. Who needed math, English and Indiana History? I felt for him because I know the feeling and love of being in solitude, enjoying the the quiet stillness of nature. But the part that bothered me was the fact that he was one of the best creative writers I had ever seen during 15 years of teaching. I still have a book of poems from that class in my office at school. His poem about watching deer is a highlight in that book. One day, my patience with this little guy had reached its end. He made a bit of a smart comeback when I confronted him about his lack of effort. Needless to say, we went out into the hallway for a “Come to Jesus” meeting.

Fast forward 8 years. This little Amish boy ended up deciding to forgo joining the Amish church and finish high school instead. He homeschooled in junior high and entered the public school system again when he was a ninth grader. I was surprised to see him one day as I was getting ready to do a book talk in his English class. For the next 4 years we enjoyed small conversation and saying “Hi” in the hallways. About 3 weeks ago I found out he was graduating at the end of Semester I in December. I saw him in the hallway, told him congratulations and asked him what he was planning for the next year. Imagine my surprise when he said he was joining the Marines. We were both in a hurry, but I was hoping to finish the conversation later.

On Thursday, we both found ourselves in the hallway during class. He promptly came up to me, held out his hand and we shook hands. Then he said, “I’ve wanted to tell ‘Thank you’ you for a long time. You’ve always been a special teacher to me, and I could tell that you cared about me. You know, I remember that speech you gave me in the fourth grade. At the time, I wasn’t so happy about it, but I thought about it quite often afterwards. You were right, I could do a lot more than I was doing. And I just really wanted to tell you ‘Thank you’.” Well…I held it together, but I get teary-eyed even now thinking about it. We talked more about his decision to go into the Marine corps and his Amish family. I wish we had more time to talk. And I wonder if he’ll ever know how profoundly his ‘thank you’ has affected me.

Sometimes, I’m sure we all wonder if we are truly doing our calling. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But there are times that I question. However, that student was placed in my path for a reason in 2004, and I was placed back in his path for a reason in 2012. We each taught the other in ways we may never fully comprehend. What a blessed present this truly has been…

Currently reading: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

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Filed under Librarianship, Rural Library, School Library, Teaching