I received the following message from one of my readers. I'm telling her story here with her permission:
I am writing to you because I don't know where else to turn. I am a
veteran elementary teacher of 25 years. I am emotionally spent. Yes,
it is the second month of a new school year, and I am completely burned
out. To be fair, it hasn't all happened in the last month and a half.
It all started about 5 years ago, and things have been rolling downhill
since then. You see, because I am an elementary teacher, my life today
is completely out of balance. My colleagues and I easily work 60 hours a
week, and when we are not at work, are usually worrying about
work--about how we are going to get everything done that needs to be
done and and how we are going to get our students to the end goal that
our administration expects of us, er, I mean, them.
of us arrive at school each day at or before 7 am, and and often do
not make it home in time for supper with our families. Our lunch break
is spent inhaling yogurt as we work with children, score papers, record
grades or make copies. We come home exhausted to our own children who
need our help with homework, piles of laundry that need to be washed or
folded, and to lunches that need to be packed for the next day when this
whole crazy cycle begins again. But by the time we get home, we have
nothing left to give. And when the weekend finally does roll around,
activities have to be scheduled around time we know that we have to
spend doing yet more schoolwork. Elderly parents to visit? No time.
Sick child? Hubby can you take this? This is just no way to live!
I was in college, I studied hard and planned for my future in which I
expected to one day be a successful, experienced, respected
professional. Over the years as a teacher, I have continued to push
myself toward greater understanding of child development, academic
achievement and my role in helping children reach their potential. Yet
where I am today could hardly be farther from the vision I once had for
myself. Instead, I find myself in a workplace where I have had
instilled in me the notion that I am not doing enough, don't know enough
and am not making progress fast enough. I often look back on my
college days with regret and even resentment.. I could have done
anything. I could have been anything. Why did I make this stupid
choice to be a teacher?
husband tells me that my colleagues and I just need to band together to
talk with our administrators, sharing our struggles with them. Surely,
he says, our collective voices would be enough to make a case that the
administration can't ignore. After all, any good employer cares about
the physical and emotional well-being of its employees, right? And
surely they would be interested in the morale in the building, right?
Well, we have tried. They aren't
I found a job in a field outside of education this afternoon that fit
me, I would take it by tonight. I want out. And I want the world to
know it. (Well, kind of. Not my immediate world, perhaps--after all, I
do have to keep my job until I can find something else!) But until
then, I want some relief. And I simply don't know where to find it.
This teacher works in Wisconsin, and feels that following the "walk out the door at 5:00" approach would result in her being out of a job in a few months.
I don't know how people who create this kind of work environment live with themselves. I don't know what story they tell themselves at the end of the day that makes them feel as if they have done heroic, important things.
And I know that some of you will think, "Well, they just need to stand tall, stand together, and fight back hard." I don't know enough of the specifics of her situation to know if that's a real option or not. But I have to wonder what has happened-- how did we get to the place where it's usual to expect that a teacher needs to be a hard-as-nails street fighter.
How many great people are we losing because all they have to offer is that they are gentle and kind, love children, and want to help students learn and understand--- and they know (or they learn) that that is not enough.
Do feel free to offer support to this reader in the comments. I expect she'll see your comments. As will the other readers who are in a similar place.