The cracks in education leadership, having been filled time and time again with useless policies, initiatives, and toxic positivity, are spreading wider than ever. When is the last time we have seen someone with significant influence in educational policy have current and relevant classroom experience? Who hasn’t seen two 45-minute observations and personal views decide a career? The pandemic did nothing but expose those cracks for what they really were—the crumbling of education at its very foundation.
I’m one class and three exams away from becoming an educational specialist, a credential that will allow me to become a principal, maybe even a superintendent some day. But I’m not even sure I’m meant to be here anymore.
I have spent the past seven years as a classroom teacher, working in a field I knew was never going to be easy. Early mornings, late nights, and the constant heartache, anger, and frustration at things I could never possibly fix. I chose to continue learning and growing in educational leadership in the hopes that, one day, at least one building of teachers wouldn’t feel the way that I was feeling.
All I see across the country are teachers who stay even when they wish they could leave because they have too much time invested. Teachers who stay because they aren’t yet aware of the unrealistic expectations and dismissiveness they will face. Teachers who leave when their strong, informed, and experienced voices continue to be ignored and silenced.
I thought long and hard this summer about leaving the education field altogether. I couldn’t get past the year and a half of remote and hybrid instructions when teachers were first heroes and then villains. Eighteen months of teachers re-creating what education used to looked like. Countless hours and days where teachers found methods to motivate and engage students in ways we never believed we could. The endlessly repetitive and tried-and-true speech of “We’ve got to do it for the kids. We truly appreciate you, but you need to do more” from our leaders that failed to motivate.
All I could focus on then was the despair that came from being in the classroom and wrestling with whether becoming an educational leader even made sense. I was stretched past my limit, trying to balance my teaching responsibilities with my postgraduate leadership program. The distancing barriers placed on teachers for our in-person students made teaching feel even more impersonal than the interactions we had when all our students were remote. The passion I had to educate, that I had worked so hard to fulfill, was a soft breeze away from being completely blown out. For the first time, I considered walking away from my career.
But just when I thought I was done, the right educator was put in front of me: A superintendent who was doing things right became one of my most inspiring professors. He was so passionate about our work as educators and the leadership struggles we could encounter that I realized I still believed. And I still believed in having dreams. I still believe that working hard and putting in the effort could amount to something better—for both my students and myself. I’m still in education because I know that the passion that lights a fire in every single one of us usually starts in a classroom. And to nurture that passion, I need to become the type of leader we as teachers need.
We need leaders from within our own ranks who are willing to stand up for what is right for our students.
As a teacher, I do speak up. I don’t always do it in the best way and I still have a lot to learn. I take a hard line when leaders place unjust and unfair expectations on those of us in the classroom. I do it after listening to those that mentored me. I do it for my students. I do it because there are some that have yet to find their voices. But I still haven’t really been able to get past the conversation and into the action.
I have an idea. It seems pretty simple to start, but it will take time and effort that some of us don’t feel like we can give. We teachers have been forced to accept things that don’t help us educate children. We have allowed leaders who have not visited our classrooms or meaningfully engaged with our students to dictate what we teach, when we teach, and how we teach. We need to stop. We need leaders from within our own ranks who are willing to stand up for what is right for our students.
Together, we need to make some hard decisions. What are we willing to do and say collectively to start knocking down bricks that serve no purpose—ineffective evaluation systems, lackluster professional development that checks a box, school improvement goals that change year to year? Or do we tear it all down? Perhaps we start building layers of leaders within every single school building so that we can make big changes in our buildings. From there, we move to our districts, our counties, our states, and our national government. At every level, we need to be heard.
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2021 edition of Education Week as This Year Almost Drove Me Out of Teaching