Educators, Abandon Ship

For many professional Americans, December is a time of winding down, reflecting on the past year, and spending quality time with family and loved ones. For teachers, however, and new teachers in particular, December can be quite the opposite.

The sheen of new students and classes has worn off and what is left is the awful realization that one is not quite at the halfway mark and the work is only getting harder. The most motivated educators promise to use the winter vacation to catch up on grading and planning. Even they may be riddled with guilt over not finishing that pile of student work or only lesson planning through the first week of the new year.

The more veteran teachers know the time is sacred in the same way a long distance runner savors a brief down hill during a race. They wisely spend their time off as they please. Incidentally this is actually normal; the vast majority of professional America does not bring home work or a terrible foreboding about the future during the winter holiday.

The most troubled teachers, those with the least experience or toughest assignments or both, spend the break deciding whether or not to even return. I know because there were two years in my k12 education career (incidentally the first and last) where the weight of the work was completely overwhelming. While I have seen teachers just not return after break, that is absolutely not what I am arguing for here.

I do want to say that if you are working in a school and thinking about not returning or wondering how you will make it through the second half of the year, do not feel ashamed. The truth is you are likely too good for the low pay, long hours, disrespect, and bad working conditions you are currently bearing. I know you are a good person because you got into education in the first place.

All of these reasons to not feel guilty are actually society’s way of saying your work is just not that important. Now, of course the work of the educator is the most important work of all, but if education work was actually valued by American society you would not just get to change kids’ lives for your trouble. Our star athletes do that all the time, but they also have great pay and celebrity. In other school systems educators are revered and well compensated.

If education is really the work you were born to do - and there are some in that boat - then live your dream. If education is something you think you should be doing for the sake of society I would only ask that you think carefully about the trade-offs you are making for that ideal.

While much of society underestimates your skill and undervalues your work, do not believe them. Think about the type of work that makes you happy. It is likely that you can find another career that can give you more of that or at least provide you with some combination of higher pay, flexibility and or time off so that you can do whatever that happy thing is more of the time.

For me I wanted more time and compensation. I wanted to spend my emotional energy on the people who meant the most to me - my children, wife, family and friends. I wanted to use a totally different part of my brain during the day. As a result I chose to re-skill and move into software development. If that kind of change interests you I can’t recommend The Turing School of Software and Design enough. And, if you are a Teach for America Alum, I’ve got good news - they are offering you a scholarship.

Wishing all of you the December break you deserve.