I Used to Be a Teacher
I used to be a teacher. Truthfully, I never made it past student teaching because I realized three days into my first week the dream was better than reality — and it had absolutely nothing to do with the kids.
The kids were the best part of the job.
Kids are fun to be around because they still hold what’s precious in life in their hearts. Life hasn’t ruined their innocence yet. They’re free and they’re honest with you. You always know where you stand with them.
My kids were the reasons I held on.
Every single one of them, every single time. I held on for them, making it through each month for them. We all got through that semester together but I was shown more and more why my dream job was just that —
It all started with Achieve
Each semester the schools I was placed in were becoming more and more technological. They were specifically utilizing laptops more and more.
This might seem like an asset but as a teacher, I can tell you that this was the biggest liability to the classroom. Once I got into my last placement, for student teaching, schools were utilizing this program called Achieve.
With Achieve, their articles and academic activities were selected according to each student’s individual level. Achieve was used to prepare them for these exams and was becoming an increasingly time-consuming aspect of our classroom.
It quickly went from them using this program for 1–2 periods a day, to them using it the majority of the day. Essentially, we were being replaced with computers.
Our kids spent much of the day on laptops
Instead of truly honoring the essence of teaching, we were now making sure our kids were on the right track or standing around idle until they needed help.
Achieve completely took away from us interacting and bonding with our kids. This wasn’t what teaching was supposed to be. This wasn’t the dream.
Things had definitely changed and it bothered me because this wasn’t “teaching” when I was growing up. We were engaged, we were interacting.
Not staring at a screen that’s doing all the teaching.
At one point, I remember asking myself, is this it? Because if so… what exactly do they even need us for? It seemed like we, as teachers, were in the beginning phases of being phased out of our own classrooms.
Image by iStockPhoto.com
The eight-year-old who was reading at the college level
Jaimee was a precious little girl in our third-grade class.
She was mild-mannered, quiet, and kind. She was also the smallest in the class. Jaimee had this habit of smiling at you warmly anytime you made eye contact with her.
Truthfully, all the teachers expressed the shared sentiment of wishing we were Jaimee’s parents. But there was something else about her that we all knew and noticed, something extremely heartbreaking —
Jaimee was suffering, every single day.
I noticed it during class one day.
She kept playing with this fidget spinner on her desk and later would be found squeezing this little squishy ball in her hand. She was the only student allowed to keep these toys (any toys) on her desk.
She specifically played with them the most during Achieve. When I asked why she was doing this, I found out that Jaimee was diagnosed with anxiety, a severe case of it. And she especially suffered the most in school,
When doing her schoolwork.
Jaimee was reading at the college level
Yes. An eight-year-old was reading at a college level. It showed any and every time it was time to do Achieve. And it showed in two very hard-to-watch ways.
- Jaimee had the hardest essays to read. Her essays were on par with what I was reading in college. The work generated for her had the chunkiest reading materials, and the most questions, and all of her activities were significantly more challenging than the rest of her peers.
- Jaimee displayed nervous habits as she worked. She would often be found fidgeting in her seat, looking focused and worried as she worked.
She kept a little stress ball on her desk at all times and carried anxiety medication with her, in her bag. It was very obvious that school was not only stressing Jaimee out, but it was quite literally her trigger.
Especially because she got the highest scores in the class, so a lot of pressure was being placed on her to lead our specific third-grade class (of which there were three) in the school. Thus, she was carrying the class’s success on her back.
It was unfair to watch her take pills for the anxiety school was causing. It was unfair to know she was forced to return to a place that would continue to make her feel emotionally and mentally unbalanced.
No child deserves that.
I understood Jaimee’s struggle on a personal level
I could relate because I was bullied in elementary school.
The Catholic school setup made it so that I was bullied by the same group of children every year until I transferred, in the middle of sixth grade. In My Catholic School, there was only one of each class, from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Therefore, you moved up every year, together as a class. Every year I was surrounded by my bullies and a lack of agency from teachers who did nothing about it.
I, too, suffered from anxiety attacks that I had no understanding of which made it worse. I struggled with wetting the bed every night because I was terrified of what the next day would bring.
I also had random panic attacks every single day. My mom worked across the street from my school and often had to come over and calm me down. It was frustrating because none of us knew what was going on.
I was a child and there was less conversation surrounding anxiety at the time, it would take nearly a decade for me to be diagnosed. In any event, my bullying days would be over in the second week of tenth grade.
So I knew what Jaimee was going through, in my own personal way and I struggled with being her teacher because of that, for two reasons.
- As a teacher, I am responsible for her anxiety to a degree because I’m aware that the place I work (and the pressure we have to put on them to strive) is the root cause. Thus, by agreeing to teach I am agreeing to traumatize.
- I was troubled because I knew, in my heart, that if we were allowed to teach the way we wanted, the lessons would have been engaging, entertaining, and much more retainable.
But that never happened.
That was never going to be the case because there was a very strict format we had to navigate. There was no room for creativity in the classroom anymore. And as time continued, it would seem there was no more room for teachers in the classroom.
We weren’t needed
I attended meetings where we were given some new format to master in only a couple of days to teach our kids.
Too often, by the time we were just getting the hang of it, we’d be introduced to a new one to follow instead. There were a few times we got the notice at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, with only hours to “figure it out”.
Regardless of how inconvenient (and inconsiderate) this always was, my kids and I were going to have to “get with” the program — but I couldn’t. I was disillusioned, teaching wasn’t fun anymore.
There was a war on creativity.
Everything was increasingly being done on laptops. All of their assignments had time limits and our kids had significantly more pressure placed on them — and they knew it too. That’s a key factor in why Jaimee was so stressed out, and we were too.
The larger portion of creativity was being removed from our classrooms and I was forced to find ways to manipulate myself into feeling motivated because I was genuinely growing to hate the blandness of the curriculum.
The administration wanted us to stick to a very specific script but I saw, on a deeper level, exactly where all of this was going. We were being phased out in favor of electronics.
I had to drink coffee to stay awake for most of my lessons because now I was relegated to merely walking around the room, and looking over my students’ shoulders into screens.
To make matters worse, many of the articles I saw my kids working on had concepts and information that would take them nowhere in the real world. I started to wonder, what is this programming really geared to do?
What role was I playing in it?
The time came for me to lay my dream to rest
Image by Shutterstock.com
I observed the system as it played out right in front of me, and came to realize something so disturbing that I left the field and never returned.
Teaching was now the worst part of being a teacher.
What once was a dream had become a nightmare, on both sides. So… I woke up. I laid my dream to rest, I broke up with the life perception of my future that teaching created for me, and I walked away from the field.
I’m telling you firsthand that breaking up with my dream felt like I was breaking my promise. Although I could have stayed for my kids, an environment like this would eventually eat away at my spirit and change who I am as a person — and as a teacher.
I also couldn’t go on letting my presence in the classroom represent my automatic support of ideals and changes that go against my morals. I didn’t agree with the loss of creativity and I didn’t agree with what it was doing to our children.
There was no choice.
I was in a situation where my setting challenged my integrity and went directly against my beliefs. I realized that the system didn’t actually want me to teach kids, they wanted me to program kids.
They didn’t care about kids being creative, they cared about test scores and technological upgrades. So much so that they removed the social-emotional notebooks from our classroom, that our kids used to journal their “difficult feelings” because,
“It took away from learning”.
Look, I signed up to make a difference, but not that kind of difference. If I couldn’t be creative, then I couldn’t teach. So, I saved what I had left inside and left the field. This is when I learned that even dreams have an expiration date.
Photo by iStockPhoto.com
Photo by iStockPhoto.com
© Linda Sharp 2022. All Rights Reserved.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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