Teacher…Interrupted

One week ago today, I turned in a letter to resign from a job I have loved for 14 years. I am one of those people who worries about things long before they happen—even though my husband tells me it’s a waste of energy. (I like to feel prepared for every possibility.) Well, I have worried about this possibility for three months now. I have cried and grieved and wondered what I would do if I could not return to teaching. I launched this blog. And then I did not write on it. Some days I was so tired I just wanted to sleep. My husband had to take a few days off work to watch the kids because I was such a mess. Basically, I’ve been sad. Really crazy sad. How can you prepare to say goodbye to something before you are ready? People say that teaching is an identity. So how do you suddenly become someone else?

Well, decision time came. I was pleasantly surprised that my HR Department would have allowed me to work remotely with additional documentation from my child’s doctor. I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that the full-time caseload for virtual teaching would have been 37-50 special education students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade. That number of kids spanning seven grade levels made me dizzy. Both my kids (age 5 and 2.5) are home since we cannot send our high-risk daughter to daycare right now. My husband works full-time, makes far more than my teacher salary, and carries the insurance for our kids. How could we balance it? Where would I find enough daytime hours to case manage 37-50 kids virtually during a traditional work week? I asked about part-time work, but the caseload was still 30 students. Any teacher knows that 30 students is full-time work. Why work a full-time job for half the pay? So I regretfully resigned. And I cried the ugly tears.

I know that most teachers are working double the hours right now. And that is just not right. Essentially, I did not leave my organization because they were inflexible to my family’s COVID19 risk. I resigned because of the unmanageable caseload. And I don’t blame the caseload on my school district. Low student funding in Arizona forces school organizations to make impossible decisions to meet the needs of enrolled students. What do you do when you have too many kids and not enough teachers? Well, you assign those kids to the teachers who are left. Will those teachers return each year under a crushing workload? Honestly, no. At some point, teachers leave. And that is the very big problem we face in this state.

There were a few HR disappointments: My organization only grants long-term absences in May, so I had to fully resign. Also, my organization rehires past employees under the same wage limiting policies as new hires, including the 5-years-of-service maximum credit for experience. I still urge districts to change policies that might retain and regain teachers who leave during COVID19, as I suggested last week. But again, I do not blame these policies on my school organization. I blame them on policy makers who have defunded education and forced districts to create unreasonable policies that harm teachers and save money. And I blame this situation on voters who elected these corrupt individuals that seek to destroy public education in Arizona. If you think those are strong words, they are. And they are not exaggerated.  

So my last few days were a blur. I was up most of the night Thursday writing a resignation letter. I expressed gratitude for the experiences, appreciation for my mentors, and made sure to get one final plug in for National Board Certification. I cleaned off my laptop for return. It was so sad peeling off my National Boards stickers. AZNBCT? Does that still describe me? (Yes. Stick it on my personal computer.) DVNBCT Network? Does that still describe me? (Sadly, no. Trash? Can I bear it? No. Stick it on my desk for now.) I found a few scanned class pictures on my desktop and stared at the kids in disbelief. Saddest “delete” ever. I found photos from our project-based learning adventures. Gosh, I will miss that. I contacted my principal about returning my computer. She wanted to wave through the window, but I had to tell her I was too sad. We agreed to a real hug when the world is normal again.

As I walked to her office door to drop and go contactless, I caught a glimpse of the preschool shed. Some reflection: Remember that shed that I begged to purchase so that I could add tons of things to the playground (and have a place to store them?) There it sits on top of the pavers that I laid mostly by myself—while pregnant (because I am stubborn like that). There are the walls and roof that we put up together as a preschool team with the help of our plant foreman. That shed never looked exactly right. What do you expect? We aren’t handymen. As I looked at the shed and dug through the memories, I had a distinct feeling that I was leaving things better than they were before me. A breath of fresh air while choking back tears. I set the computer down and headed back to my car with a lump in my throat.

When I pulled back into the drive, I decided to get the mail. I had that feeling of closure and rest that comes only at the end of the year. But the weather was weird. Warm sun, cool breeze? So different from the feeling of summer. I guess that final endings have a different feeling. I came inside and laid down with my kids so the little one could take a nap. They were exceptionally loving and calm that day. My daughter touched my face and said, “Love you Mommy.” She was wearing the hairband that I wore on the day she was born. I took note of that beautiful symbolism.

Becoming a Mom really does change you forever. It makes you question things like working over the weekend and stressing so much that you can’t enjoy family time. I have been slowly finding myself these past three months, and I finally feel really peaceful. I’m not sure what is next, but knowing what is over feels reassuring. I am ready to move on. For now, I am a teacher…interrupted. I want to find work that contributes to the profession and supports the teachers who are trying to stay. And so I finally truly begin the journey of a recovering teacher: Finding my place outside of the classroom. Deep breath. Fresh air.

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