Thursday, September 15, 2005

Why I left

People ask me from time to time why I quit teaching .

All my life I wanted to teach. Many childhood memories involve standing infront of a chalkboard in my porch with my stuffed animals and little brothers lined up in a row taking notes. Everyone knew I would major in education and I couldn’t wait to have my own classroom.

Like my professor advised in graduate school, I went straight for the schools with the most need.....and at first things went great... but over time the the holes and flaws became sorely obvious… and soon things became unbearable. I tried making it work for the children's sake.I even went to law school part-time for two semesters, hoping things would improve…. But as things grew worse, I realized it wasn’t working.

I had my reasons…

90 degree weather and no air conditioning. Ice storm and no heating. No notebook paper, no handwriting paper, and yes, no toilet paper. Books? Stationary? SOAP? Go buy it.

Two hour staff meetings with the Principal telling us that "like a wife must obey her husband, you must obey me”

“Shawn” showing me round burns across his little arms where daddy puts out his cigarettes when he's mad. You go to the parents, counselor, social services- the result? “You shouldn’t have asked. The scars are old. Children lie”. He sees plainly... I knew yet did nothing. And "Bilal" who can’t tell the difference between B and Z but achingly bright despite his debilitating learning disability… You raise hell to get him tested yet the red tape ensures a one year wait- minimum. By then, his chances to catch up are nil.

I hated feeling angry. Angry because these children had nothing, and the school provided little more. Jonathon Kozol described the inequity in public school but I didn’t believe him until I lived it.

I tried my best. I argued with the school board, butted heads with counselors, spent chunks of change on books, book bags, clothes, and soap and I don’t regret anything I did. But you begin wearing down and I didn’t want the frustration of the outer to affect my inner love of children and education.

My family jokes that I'll probably get my law degree and jump back into teaching... maybe a break really is all I needed. But for now, quite simply I left because like a sorry statistic, this teacher burnt out.

35 comments:

momyblogR said...

I admire your effort and as a mother of two school age kids I appreciate what you did and may even continue to do. It sounded like you were a one woman army, a brave soldier going into battle even though is seemed that it was already won before you began.

You are the kind of people we need in our educational systems, Thank you!!

Aisha said...

Thank you so much for your kind words! I don't know if I'm worthy of such praise, but I appreciate it:). Jonathon Kozol's book is a must read for anyone who thinks it could never be that bad...

Dawn said...

I think teaching is a great and important profession but if you were burnt out then you needed the break and like your family says you can always go back to it!

Tee said...

That was interesting to know. I wondered why you moved on from teaching but figured you had your reasons and didn't ask... I really admire what you did. My older sister is an Elementary school teacher. She worked in some places where the children were very poor and dealt with the same types of things. She teaches somewhere where poverty isn't as prevalent right now, which I'm sure has it's pros and cons. I know she liked helping these children - but it does take it's toll.

Sobia said...

I think all the things you said is why you SHOULD be a teacher. They need people like you who don't just sit back and let things happen. My Mom is a counselor and she says she fights for children every day of her life and it's never easy, but there is something rewarding when the kids come back to YOU 20 years later and say, "Thank you. YOU are the one who made a difference in my life." I think you should look into this part of the school atmosphere. With a law degree you could really kick some ass.

Flame said...

Whatever, just do what you do and have fun doing it.

wayfarer said...

I do think teachers have one of the hardest jobs out there and get thanked the least. :-/ I always wanted to teach but haven't made the jump. Perhaps one day i will...

mystic-soul said...

In this regard - I will advise you to watch Indian movie "Page 3" - a story of a frustrated journalist. You will probably get some kind of answer at the end when her colleague tell her how to "change system by staying in system". As I read your post, I recall that last scene.

(key is to watch movie upto last scene)

Aisha said...

Haven't seen the movie, when I have time I'll have to check it out.

Re: the best way to change the system is to stay in the system <- good point. Maybe by goign to law school I can help change the system with a different set of tools.

Aisha said...

Sobia, you are so right, so many teachers just let things happen. But you know, I wonder about the older teachers who seem to not care at all...did they start out passionate and energetic? Was it overover time they saw that no one listened, no one did anything, and they too began draining? Maybe they're burnt out teachers who never quit. It's not easy to admit but I felt myself fighting with temptation to just "let it go" since I knew how hard it would be to get anything done for the child and that it may end up not being done at all. I didn't want to do that so I left before I risked doing so.

Jane said...

My one set of in-laws, their daughter, my paternal grandmother, and my cousin were all teachers at one time. They've all experienced burn-out...teachers get little respect, next to no pay, and not enough support. Kudos to you, for giving the time you did teach. Maybe you will return.

Marel Lecone said...

Wow--this is a great post. Enjoyed the two before also. Sorry, I'm catching up it seems. I feel your emotion when reading this--it makes me sad. And, maybe, you will go back. Wishing more could be done . . . what happens when my kids go to school? . . . in so many ways, this country is in a sad position. I will talk to you later.

FunkyB said...

I just switched majors -- bottom of the ninth inning it seems...and I did it for many of the reasons you've spelled out.

Teaching isn't what teachers get to do anymore anyhow...now they have to drill and babysitt. It's so sad.

mystic-soul said...

Life is not fair and never will be. Think about billions without food, clean water etc etc.(As dawn was blogging about poverty few days back).

Just try your best as much you can. Even influencing 'one single life' would be worthed !!

(I extremely admire your heart and passion for downtroddens).

Khizzy said...

i suppose it does get frustrating at some point but if everyone makes the same decision as urs , there'll be noone left who cares!
stick around and do ur thing!
it will pay off..if not a solution, knowing u care will help some of those kids atleast survive day to day!

ASH said...

Being a teacher is no different than being a dedicated police officer in this community. You are not paid as well as you should, you see criminals nabbed and get satisfaction out of it....and then see them walk out of the courtroom with just a set of red knuckles and wonder why in hell you even bother.

I have always admired the tenacity of teachers, but always wondered why as I progressed through school I saw or heard about my old teachers leaving. Now I know. You can want to help all the time but when others do not want to help you or the children then you are left being the only one pushing. With slothful counselors and Saddam-like principals, who treat their jobs like they are someplace to hide until retirement...no wonder our system sucks.

So many things work well in our society....sometimes I wonder why the simian dregs of our society end up as administrators for schools and in Congress.

Aisha you were a pearl among the oysters of your job, you cared and that no doubt caused them to dislike you even more. Looking back over my career I find that when I was treated the worst or ran into the most problems was when I either wanted to change something for the better, or did my job in such an excellent order that I made others "look bad". You get emmense job satisfaction at those moments....but you have to deal with a lot of nasty people at the same time. In the end if you don't watch yourself, the hasid will crush your spirit.

Whether you change it from the inside or the outside...we have to change it. And I know just who to call on.

Ms. Packman's Page said...

I would have to say my experience at teaching has been much better than yours. But sometimes we can't save them all, or at least this is what I have been told. I pray for those who I can't reach and hold on tight for those I do. The teacher in me reaches for all the lost souls and like you, I have to put my own money out for extras, but never what you have had to do. I wish we could have a fairer distribution of funds for all kids. But, the government fails to see the need to contribute more, and businesses see a decline in profits and then you have mega giant businesses who don't want to contribute but build more mega stores. Will the circle never end? But, then taxpayers will stop a tax to help eleviate the crowding in public schools, but yet, we find the money to support the oil companies, because, oh yeah, they need the extra profit. Do what makes you happy. MP

Dem Soldier said...

I graduated few yrs ago from high school. Through the yrs I want to three public schools. I will always have deep admiration for all my teachers who have endured so much from soo many students who didn't want to be there. I really feel for U, please don't give up teaching, teaching is most rewarding career ever. I WIll DEFINITELY BE A TEACHER.

Aisha said...

Robin- I agree teaching to the test sucks! I would hate to discourage potential teachers... I probably would have stayed if it hadnt been for my boss.. she was probably the major reason I switched to full time. I guess law school opened its door only to me so I took it as a sign to try something new for a little while. I may not get accepted again but teaching I can come back to.

Khizzy and Dem Soldier you're right, teachers are needed and it is a rewarding career.. this is why its a decision I still wrestle with today.

Ms.Packman: welcome fellow teacher! I agree with your view..i think affirmative action (regardless of your views on it) would not be necessary if kids got equal education from the start. How about fixing the base inequity?

Ash: I dont know if you were around when I shared my war stories about my boss. The things that came out of her mouth were outrageous but more outrageous was that she's still working there, three years and counting. Thank you for the kind words Ash, though I don tknow if i'm worthy of the praise, it means a whole lot to me.

Aamina said...

You did the best that you could do. maybe with your law degree you can do something in education like have more funding for the type of school you taught at?

rehtwo said...

Teachers have one of the most thankless jobs, in my opinion, and one of the most important. I can't stand hearing how teachers have it so "easy" just because of the summer vacation inherent in most public school systems. They work long after the school day ends, spend much of their own paltry salaries on supplies for their classroom and their students, and are exposed to all sorts of issues that the normal professional would not. They have one of the most important jobs in society, yet it seems to be largely thankless. It's too bad. You sound like you were a wonderful teacher and that you did your best in an incredibly tough situation. It's no surprise that teachers "burn out", given what they go through. You sound like you love people, so either teaching or law sound like good fora for you! :-) Good luck with law school, although I'm sure education misses you. :-D

Saadia said...

Well, I think you should frame this more positively if someone asks you (especially an interviewer) and think about it well. I don't think you should say "I gave up because I was tired" because that is not what I heard. I heard you said you missed it. From talking to me you wanted more of a challenge, and have more authority to change what you believe are the inequalities of the system. Being a lawyer helps you do that and gives you options to change the school system. No wonder the principal feared you!

Saadia said...

Although I did read that burn out with teachers in under-financed schools is a problem...seems like they needed you though!

roora said...

i though that schools in the states are much better than that , even the public ones!

maybe if you changed the school and went to another, it will be better for you , because of having better working environment , and better management.

Eric Mar & SF Area Activists said...

please don't give up on teaching especially to students who need you the most. your website is wonderful.

Annis Naeem said...

you're a very good writer. i know you were just talking about your life, but for some reason, it reminded me of this desi(afghan or paki, i'm not sure since he impresses both cultures in his book along with the correct languages, etc) writer named Khaled something... He's the author of The Kite Runner (I really reccomend that all muslims/and non-muslims read that book :-) ).

I don't know; even though I got here through my friend Mohmmad Ali's page, I was interested in a lot of what you wrote. It wasn't boring... and it wasn't corny. You nailed it just right. And this concerns all of your entries. I've only read three so far though, but I see the point.

Just in a spaced mood, so I thought I'd comment.

And I really dig the whole 'wisdom' part throughout your page. Good stuff.

Aisha said...

Saadia, you're right my decision to leave was very multi-facted... feeling powerless to change anything was a big factor and I hope law will help me be more active in changing the way things are. That's the pipe dream for now anyways.

Rehtwo and Aamina thank you so much for your kind words, they mean a lot to me.

Eric Mar- thank you for stopping by and commenting. I respect the work you're doing for education.

Annis Naeem- wow, you give me high praise indeed...*blushes* thanks for stopping by and thanks for your kind words!

Kashmiri said...

I hope you certianly do whats best for you, it is for you to decide.

Teaching is one of the greats of giving something back and gives so much satisfaction.

I think its a burn-out, but whatever i hope you stay happy and hope your heart will grow even bigger...


Thanks for sharing some realities.

Kashmiri

mushsis said...

wow it sounds like the profession have lost a valuable, compassionate and much-needed teacher in you. it is so sad that you felt unable to continue with something that it is obvious you care greatly about.
I wish you well in whatever you choose to do - and hope you find it ultimately rewarding.

Baraka said...

Aisha, from the passion with which you write of your teaching experience it sounds like something you gave your heart & soul to. You must have been a wonderful teacher.

And when we do give endlessly without enough nourishment in return, we burn out. It's so sad & common in non-profits, as I can attest to from personal experience.

I hope as a country we start reinvesting in education, children, the environment--all sort of issues that actually translate into investing in our own future.

I think you did the right thing--sometimes you have to protect yourself & reorient in order to re-engage with the world in a positive manner

How did the case presentation go?

Warmly,
B

Aisha said...

Thank you mushsis, kashmiri and baraka. Thanks for the reassurance I did the right thing :). I appreciate it.

Marie said...

Hello, Aisha. I was just checking out some of your posts. I see we have mutual blog friends. :) I had to comment on this particular post because your story reminds me so much of why my sister quit teaching this year. So much of what you wrote she also said. In the past year, she's gone back to school and is working on getting into the Nursing program at a university here in Los Angeles.

I just want to say that I understand what it can do to you because I saw the toll it took on my sister and she just couldn't do it anymore. It's sad because she also was one of those meant to teach.

Anyway, thank you for sharing your story. I have much respect and understand for your position.

Aisha said...

Wow Marie, thank you so much for commenting, the situation with your sister makes me feel better in a strange way. I guess it reminds me I'm not weird or weak to drop out... It's interesting that your sister and me both went into fields to help other people just in different ways... but like your sister I feel like I was meant to teach, and its something many people can't understand.. to have such a passion for what you do... Does she miss teaching?

Marie said...

Aisha,

You're welcome. I was compelled to respond because your story sounded very similar to my sister's. She was very sad that it came down to this, but felt it was the right decision to make for *her.* So far she's been away from the teaching arena for 4 months now and doesn't talk about missing teaching (at least not yet). But seems happier in some ways. She looks forward to this new chapter in her life and moving into another career in which she could help others.

She's hoping to get into pediatric nursing so that she could still work with children. I personally would find it difficult to be around children who are ill and in hospitals, but she has an amazing compassion and inner strength. We'll see.

I wish you the best as you move forward in your new career! :)

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