As I pulled into the school parking lot, I ran through the day’s to-do list in my head.
I have to submit data from two recent tests, complete two data reflection forms, start progress reports, and complete the SEL survey on each of my 23 kindergartners.
I hope no behavioral issues arise because if I can avoid a phone call from the parents I might be able to do some of that – well that’s if I do a virtual homework while studying social.
Oh shoot. I just remembered that I have training during my planning period today. In fact, I can’t do much.
It’s Friday, and I still haven’t prepared for next week. I will be forced to work all weekend again.
I took a deep breath to slow my racing heart as I parked the car, still mentally working through the busy – but not out of the ordinary – day ahead. What am I teaching today? With such a long to-do list, do I even time teach?
This is how the last year of teaching went for me. As I assessed each day, almost nothing on my to-do list involved feeding and guiding my kindergartners. I was always doing things for other people—school principals, district administrators, state officials—at the expense of the students in my care.
reach a boiling point
With 15 minutes before and after the bell to plan and less than three hours of weekly preparation, I never really had enough time to meet the demands of my job, even before the pandemic. In North Carolina, where I live, teachers are paid for “show time” with students, but there is little consideration – and certainly no reward – for hours of preparation and lesson planning not paid to run a class.
I have always worked overtime outside of the school day. It’s just a reality of the job. But when schools returned fully in-person for the 2021-22 school year, my workload increased significantly. At all levels, education officials have been panicking over the lack of information on student achievement since the start of the pandemic. And it felt like their fingers were pointed at us – the teachers – as the reason test scores plummeted, rather than the once-in-a-century pandemic that has upended education for the past three years. school.
School boards have stepped up to make up for lost time. Teachers faced ongoing professional development training, increased testing and frequent surveys. There has always been a degree of this in education, as the pendulum swings back and forth, but last year it reached a boiling point.
Attending the weekly team planning meetings made me anxious, because that’s usually where we learned about the latest leadership efforts. Most of these “solutions” came with hours of training and meetings that ate up my planning time.
There was the NCELI (NC Early Learning Inventory), an entirely new grading system for my students, but only for kindergarten and not aligned with the criteria included in the report cards we sent home. Then there was the district’s social-emotional learning survey, used to quantify the mental health and well-being of children in the district. But since my students were too young to complete it themselves, I had to do it for them, essentially guessing the state of their sanity so my district could prove that its investment in SEL was working.
Later, these are data reflections on every assessment I gave in class, regardless of size, scope, or whether the whole class passed it or not.
All of these efforts – and many others – would end up being onerous and time-consuming, robbing me and my colleagues of the chance to focus our attention on our students. I wasted so much precious time on unnecessary paperwork.
Teaching with a broken heart
They say that teaching is “a work of the heart,” and it is indeed. But it has become increasingly difficult to love this work as my heart has hardened over the past year and all the joys I have felt because of my work have been chipped away.
I hated who I was becoming. I was the disgruntled employee at planning meetings who argued against the endless workload. I’ve felt frustrated in staff meetings with inspirational videos shown to get me to “buy in” to the same type of tasks that put me in a bad mood in the first place. I felt grumpy with my students as I hid behind my laptop, sneaking five minutes here and there to complete various assignments. I felt guilty as I chased away my students, knowing that what they truly deserved was my full attention. Instead, again, they worked on their iPads at the end of the day so I could hope to get it all done. My heart sank as I swapped my favorite classroom activities and traditions for ones that required less preparation, hoping the kids wouldn’t notice.
In short, I felt trapped. There I was, 10 years into my career, working as hard as my first years in the classroom. I used to justify the hours, confident that my hard work would pay off later. Now I was just stressed, angry, and deeply resentful. All overtime was spent on meaningless tasks. The joy I once felt in my work was so fleeting. My heart was no longer there. How was this possible, when my kindergartens had become almost an afterthought? On top of that, teacher pay was at a standstill in North Carolina. The message was clear: I am neither valued nor wanted here.
When you’re striving to help young children shine, you may convince yourself that it’s okay to disregard your own needs. I swept away the feeling that I am not valued by my condition for a long time. But this most difficult year came after many difficult years, forcing me to see that maybe I had had enough.
In 2011, my district extended the 45-minute school day without increasing teachers’ salaries. When I started in 2012, making just over $34,000, there was a wage freeze for teachers who were in their first five years of work. In 2013, North Carolina got rid of master’s salary increase. In 2014, the salary grid for teachers was overhauled, removing longevity bonus. It has hardly been retouched since.
The issue of teacher compensation has prevented North Carolina from spend a budget from 2017 to 2022. In 2018 and 2019, teachers in my state were ready to strike. Somehow, over the past three school years, we have determined that it would be selfish to defend ourselves in the face of a pandemic.
Throughout this time, I have voted, advocated and participated to make a difference, but as I reached the 10th anniversary of my teaching career—income less than $52,000 and still a decade away from hitting $60,000 – I realized I had to get myself out before this job took all of me.
It wasn’t about the money, but the salary certainly did nothing to soften the blow of an increasingly polarized field and a job that constantly demands you find ways to do more with it. less.
I worked at an amazing school that valued me, but even the best administrators couldn’t shield me from politics, the pandemic, and all the stuff that teachers have been carrying for the past few years.
After 10 years of trying, my heart was broken. I realized it was time to move on, to try to leave my mark in another way. I submitted my resignation and I will not return.