Monday, March 30, 2015

Throwing in the Towel

It was with a very heavy heart today that I stepped into my Principal's office and submitted my letter of resignation for the 2015-2016 school year. Many of you have left comments and encouraging words, on this blog and on Facebook.  I can't tell you how much those comments have meant to me. I read each and every one multiple times, and I took every comment to heart. So many of you poured out your hearts and shared your own frustrations with your teaching jobs. Many of you have left for the same reasons I have given.

Several of you have asked how I've been managing, and I really wish I could be a good example of a teacher sticking it out. I tried. I really did. I gave this job everything I had and then a little bit more.

I was doing okay for at least six weeks, leaving by 5:30 and not bringing work home. The only exception is Sundays. Sundays are still filled with planning for the week ahead, and often it's done at school, away from my family. I find myself feeling more and more resentment towards the time I spend on the weekends preparing for the week ahead. The time I spend away from or disconnected from my family.

I suppose I could just not do it, sure. Except, I know myself, and I'm not the type of person that flies by the seat of her pants. I'm a control freak. I need to feel prepared before I stand in front of a classroom of students on Monday morning. I'm not comfortable with not having my ducks in a row.

So as much as I tried to turn it around and make a positive change, I've decided to let go. I'm going to finish out this year and enjoy everything I love about my job for the next ten weeks. I'm going to savor every moment I have left with my students.

That might creep them out, but hey, what fun, right?

I want to focus on the good. I don't want to leave my profession with bitterness, although I'm not going to lie, I have felt bitter at times.

I will miss the kids. This awkward age group especially. They are caught between childhood and adulthood, awkwardly navigating friendships and crushes. Their personalities are so varied and amazing. I marvel at the things they do and say every day. For those of you that are parents, you should know that teachers really do appreciate and love their students very much like you do. We notice them. We appreciate their uniqueness. And yes, we are proud of them. When the year is over and they move on, we miss them.

I will miss my teacher friends and everyone else I work with. As adults in a middle school, so many of us are immature ourselves, and I love that. We joke around every day. We laugh until we wet ourselves and make snorty noises. We scare our students when we behave strangely and that makes it even funnier.

I will miss the school supplies. I have always had a special place in my heart for brand new school supplies.

I will miss hearing students say "Oh, I get it now!" Even if sometimes it is closely followed by "Nope. Gone now."

I will miss bossing people around who are taller than me. I'm not gonna lie. Some days it makes me feel powerful to give a six foot tall basketball player a tongue lashing and then have him give me a sincere apology. I know it's wrong, but it does feel good. Even though these kids are at a very self-centered age, most of them really do not want to disappoint us.

I will miss writing on my beautiful, gleaming white, whiteboards with chisel tip dry erase markers.

I will miss watching my students grow from the first day I see them in September to the last day I see them in June. Academically, socially, and vertically. It's very rewarding.

I will miss trolling for new foldables, curriculum, lessons, and classroom decorations.

I will miss setting up my classroom every year.

I will miss reading teacher blogs and getting ideas and inspiration from them. I don't think I will be able to continue reading teacher blogs because I'm afraid it will hurt too much.

I will miss meeting my students' parents and seeing their features and mannerisms mirrored in adult-sized, responsible citizens.

I know there is so much more I will miss, and I'm going to be looking for the things I will miss over these last ten weeks. I thought about making a list of the things I will not miss, but that just sounds like such a gigantic buzz kill, so I'll decline.

There are still a lot of teacher related things I have wanted to share, so I'll try and get those posted before the end of the school year. A "What Has Worked for Me" post of sorts.

For those of you sticking it out and hanging in there, my thoughts are with you. I love, appreciate, and admire all of you. I hope you will be able to hold the frustration and discouragement at bay, like I have not been able to do.

Thank you all for your comments and good wishes. I appreciate them more than words can express. As we drag our gnarly carcasses through these last weeks of school, May the Force be With You.

Monday, January 19, 2015

One More Thing

It seems that at the beginning of every year I return to school after my winter break in a slump. Not just a slump, I'm talking about a gigantic bad attitude.

 I work so hard up to the break, that when the break comes, I crash.

And when I say crash I'm talking about sitting on the couch in a puddle of my own drool and liking it.

This year wasn't any different except that this time I decided over the break, that without a doubt, I was done. This was going to be my last year teaching. In fact, I was so sure that I told anyone that would listen, that I couldn't take it anymore.

Forgive me, but now that Twisted Sister song "We're Not Gonna Take It" is stuck in my head

So what was different about this year that I decided I'd had enough?

Well, this year I started keeping track of all the hours I spend at my job. I always knew that it was a ridiculous number, but I never actually did the math.

Sort of ironic, isn't it? The math teacher that doesn't do the math.

I didn't keep track of any of my summer hours because a lot of that is just my own disease, working in my classroom before I had to be back. I wanted to be fair and reasonable because I knew that this data was going to help me make the decision of whether to stay or go. Just like that Clash song from the 80's.

I started with my hours on my first contract day and I included all the time I've spent planning, preparing, grading, teaching, everything.

And do you know what I found? I was averaging 58.6 hours per week doing my job. The job that the average citizen nauseatingly likes to remind me, although very much in error, allows me to have my summers off and leave everyday at 2:30. Never mind that I'm teaching until 3:34, my contract time doesn't end until 4:00, and I never have the luxury of walking away at 4:00. Pesky details.

Do I sound bitter? I won't deny it, I'll just smile and fake it until I make it.

Back to the actual hours, I figured out that if I continued at this pace I would have put in 2,168 hours in 37 weeks.

I compared this to a 40-hour/week job working 50 weeks a year with 2 weeks of vacation, working 2,000 hours per year.

That's right, I'm working 168 more hours in a year, but in less time.

Somehow having summers off isn't as attractive as it once was.

What I'm talking about here is balance.

I have zero balance in my life. I don't do fun things during the week. I don't exercise. I rarely cook for my family. I fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day and I'm killing myself.

Since I'm full on into my Pity Party, I also calculated my hourly rate. As a teacher in my ninth year of experience teaching in Idaho I make $36,096 a year (which I might add is less than I made when I taught in California 15 years ago with less experience). If I divide that by my 2,168 hours I'm making $16.65 an hour.

Granted, these hours aren't true for all teachers, but I can guarantee you that it's an alarming number.

And to be fair, my crazy hours are partially my fault. If I were to work just my contract hours I would be making $24.39 an hour for my 37 weeks of contract time.

That's not horrible I guess, but remember, I'm working all that overtime and I don't get paid time and a half.

Do I think it's going to change and teachers will be paid more? Not for a minute. That's not really the problem I have with my job anyway. It's the sheer number of hours I put in that I can't deal with.

Honestly, there are so many things that I love about my job. Every single day is an organizational challenge and a juggling act. I dig that because I never get bored.

And the kids? They crack. me. up. Every single day. I can't imagine not being around them.

And the math! Can I just tell you how much I love doing homework which I then assign to my students? They complain about the homework and I tell them I assign it because I care. "It hurts me more than it hurts you because I have to grade it," I tell them. It does not make them feel better.

My dilemma is that I love my job, but my job is killing me. Or maybe I am killing me because I can't do my job in a reasonable number of hours?

I've had to take a step back and really look at what I'm choosing to spend my time on. I had my evaluation meeting with my principal about a week after returning from break, and he confronted me right off the bat about hearing that I was telling everyone I was leaving.

The thing is that he didn't ask me about it in an accusatory way. He was truly concerned and wanted to help. He sat and talked with me for at least 45 minutes, trying to help me figure out what I could do to work less and play more. He shared his experiences with me and he talked about the frustrations he feels about the job and the demands that are placed on us.

Every meeting we go to, teachers leave saying "One more thing I have to do now." It's awful. Expectations are constantly changing and this new idea is replaced with that new idea, and we are just supposed to embrace it, invest a gajillion hours to implement it, and then change it again at the next meeting.

Teachers know what I'm talking about.

I came away from the meeting with my principal waffling on my position. He really made me think about how I spend my time.  The bottom line is that I just have to hold firm and walk away at 5:00. Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow.

And do you know what? It works. And okay, I can't do 5:00, but I totally walk away at 5:30 and I don't bring it home. I do still have to plan on the weekends, and I hate that, but I'm managing the day-to-day and I don't feel overwhelmed. Before this new mindset, I felt overwhelmed every single day.

I've been to the gym a few times--not enough but it's something. I've been cooking a few nights a week and I often have leftovers to take in my lunch instead of prepackaged frozen meals. Some nights I come home and just sit on the couch and read. I waste time.

So maybe I'm not leaving. I'm not making any decisions right now, but I am going to give my job another chance. I'm going to take it one year at a time. That's all I can promise right now.
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