Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Job Is Perfect; Time to Quit

The kids can be loud. They can be late. They can be obnoxious. They rarely turn anything in on time.

The building doesn't have nearly enough space for the seven schools it houses. The roof is literally falling on our heads. I can't find a quiet corner to think about anything during the day.

The staff is overworked. They're sometimes down on themselves and on each other. We have a very tough time communicating and agreeing on curriculum.

But I love this job. I really love it.

Lately I've thought about why I teach. Not why I say I teach. You know: a passion for instilling knowledge...getting those "ah-ha" moments...the kids are our future. No - because, frankly, if I was miserable, I wouldn't stay in any job no matter how much I thought I was helping others. It is important to me that I'm doing something good for people while I do a job I love, but why do I really stay in this job? What keeps me happy?

I'm a people person. I haven't always been. But I am now. I smile a lot. I like to laugh. I like to make other people laugh. And on most days, I get to do that every five to ten minutes. This is why I teach.

Despite their adolescent immaturity, I adore the students I work with. Almost nothing gives me more happiness than talking with them and feeling like I'm contributing something to their lives.

I'm a thinker. I've always been one. I overthink everything. I've been told on more than one occasion by people close to me that I need to stop thinking. "Could you just shut up for one minute and enjoy the moment instead of asking why?" Okay, I say. I shut up. And then I wonder why I can't "enjoy the moment." Curriculum planning lets me overthink the hell out of everything. I can bury myself deep in my content and frustrate my students and colleagues with questions I can't figure out the answers to. "Hey - Karla - if classical liberal thought spurred industrialism, and industrialism led to imperialism, then didn't liberalism lead to imperialism? And if that's the case, then how can one justify..." ¡Ay Dios - Mister! This is why I teach.

I like to perform, every now and then. I used to do it a lot more when I started teaching, since I thought that's what good teaching was back then. Now I only do it when it works. But in a lot of ways, you're always performing as a teacher. This is why I teach.

I'm particularly lucky in my current school. Yea - there's a lot of misguided policies hindering what could be a much better work place (see here, here, here, and here). But overall, I'm not sure I could have found a better place to develop professionally. On a daily basis, I work with kids I love working with (despite their ability to be pains in the ass OFTEN). I work with people who know a ton about teaching (especially teaching ELLs) - colleagues who stretch my thinking about effective teaching tremendously. I get to talk with researchers who document our strategies at least once a month. I'm surrounded by phenomenal opportunities for professional development. I LOVE my content area. My administrators think I know what I'm doing, at least enough that they trust me to experiment and learn from my mistakes. This is why I teach.

If anyone is professionally satisfied, it's me. This is an enormous problem.

One other thing about me: I'm a recovering perfectionist. (There's no way I'd be able to stay in teaching if I hadn't learnt to let go a little here and there.) I've always wanted to be really good at stuff. This is a problem, and not in the way that you say it's a problem in job interviews as an underhanded means of letting your employer know that you're the perfect candidate. It's a problem because now that I've found a place that seriously satisfies my lust for professional excellence, it's taken over my life (which is lucky for the school since the student population needs a staff of people twice our size working 24/7 at supporting them). I live to work. My career and my life are synonymous.

I love teaching (I think I've conveyed that). But it's not what makes life worth living. I'm unbalanced. My emotional, social, spiritual, and physical needs are not being met. I'm not feeling the same zest for life that I've felt at other points in the past - those moments when you look around and say, "Yes! I'm alive! Thank God!" I'm professionally and intellectually satisfied, more than I ever thought I could be. But life is a balancing act. Not meeting those other important life needs leaves me feeling hollow, superficial in some way. I don't want to be the person who looks back and realizes they sacrificed everything for that one thing. No. Not me. In the words of James Blunt and Eg White: I'll Take Everything.


  1. I'm college student studying music education. I'm interested in working in an Urban Community when i'm finished with school. Do you have any advise for the nubes out there?

  2. I was like you. What save me - in a limited way - was becoming an ed activist with other like-minded people in my 4th year as a teacher when I realized it took something outside the classroom. Combining teaching with the sense of political mission did the trick for me. Join the Real Reformers and GEM in making more movies beyond Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman - Ask the crew and they found this to be one of the most intellectually stimulating things - and a lot of it due to the sense of collaboration - they've done. Me too. We ain't stopping there.

  3. Norm - I believe it. I also take a great deal of satisfaction from thinking about and acting on my beliefs regarding education policy. But I'm afriad that might be part of the problem for me. I enjoy it too much. I'm consumed by it. I'm just looking for a little more balance in life right now. I don't want to leave teaching, just this specific environment.

  4. Anon: When I was going through teacher school, I don't think there was ever a point when someone gave me a piece of advice that made much of a difference in the way I approached teaching. I learned, through experience, the power of what many of the advice-givers had to say. But I definitely wasn't ready to appreciate a lot of the good stuff prior to really engaging with urban teaching myself.

    So, I prefer not to give advice. I'll be happy to have a conversation via email though.

  5. I've been teaching for 25 years. At one point, I was going to go into real estate. Funny thing is my current superintendent went into real estate and wasn't happy with that for very long.

    I don't know your particular circumstances, but I think a good relationship with another person helps me quite a bit, and I have also found time away from everything that is teaching, say during a summer vacation, lifts me back up to start another year. That and my mortgage payment.

    I enjoy your blog and its perspective

  6. Gordon: Thanks for your comments. I've heard a lot of people say that a solid relationship with another person can play a big role. And I agree that staying in teaching (especially when you're really committed to it) requires getting away from it every now and then.

  7. It's really hard to quit a job when you know that you really like doing what you do. Good luck.
    jobs manila

  8. I think it's interesting that with as little as teachers make they have to deal with so much. My sister is in the same boat as you with teaching preschool at a private school, except then she comes home to three boys that she has to take care of. She loves it, but it can definitely overwhelm a person's life before they realize it.