Lately, I have been reflecting on my long, exhausting teaching career.
I started teaching because I needed a job. I had left University of Florida after a particularly tough lesson in graduate school politics, and I needed an adult job so that I could pay my very real adult bills. So I took on a job that I felt I could do relatively well and for which I didn't need a lot of experience. I stumbled upon teaching by accident, truthfully. I received a phone call from a principal who conducted a phone interview for a job that I hadn't applied for. That interview got me thinking about teaching as a possible job choice, and a year later, I got my first teaching job at Meadowbrook Middle School. And that's what it was: a job. I had no intentions of staying in teaching because I did not want to teach teenagers.
That was twenty years ago.
I wish I could say that I continued teaching because I loved to teach, but I don't think I ever quite fell in love with my career choice. I developed a passion for teaching, yes. And there were students that I taught who made me a better person. But love teaching. I don't think that affair ever reached such a deep emotional level. My teaching career has involved incidents that required a strength and determination that I never knew I had. I've withstood principals who were ruthless in ways that were downright scary. This is why, I think, I've come to the end of the line. No one person can take so many blows and still be left standing.
When I first started teaching at Meadowbrook, I worked for a man who lacked interest in the job. He administered with a casual neglect that would have been unacceptable in a school with less black and brown children. A week before school began, he assigned another teacher and I to the old wood shop classrooms. The rooms were big enough to house two full classes, and the principal said a partition would divide the room in half. The partition never came.
So my introduction to teaching included a wood shop classroom that I shared with another teacher. There was no wall between our classes, and no chalkboard, no books, no bulletin board, no desks on my side of the room. And the floor was just paint on concrete. I might as well have been teaching in a garage. The television for morning announcements was on the other teacher's side of the room. So here I was, this young teacher who had to figure out how to turn my space into a classroom. I looked at one wall filled with cabinets and a counter, another wall that held six closet doors, and a third wall with another door and a huge closet, and I was at a loss. I had less than a week to prepare for my students and their classroom was definitely not a classroom.
Perhaps I should have quit then. If I had known what trouble lay ahead, then I might have. I quickly learned that while children can make teaching both tough and rewarding, the bureaucracy that governs teaching can be destructive. Don't get me wrong, though. By bureaucracy, I don't refer just to the policies that allow us to point to a vague, machine-like system. I am talking about those women and men that sit behind desks far removed from classrooms, but make day to day decisions about our public school aged children that more often than not--do harm first.