I saw an article on Ed Week that utilized a very positive response to a growing number of educators who are leaving the profession and choosing to be very vocal about it. It is titled Why I Stay in Teaching by Justin Minkel.
I do not judge those who choose to leave teaching nor their desire to share those reasons. Many of them have very valid rationales for being upset with the current state of education.
Over a century of work has been placed in front of us. The world has changed drastically and has flattened in many ways. No one saw how quickly this would happen. It feels as if we are in a constant game of “catch up” as districts adopt initiatives faster than they can implement them. Many of these initiatives are good in intent but because the pressure to perform (in many cases on outdated, incoherent measures) we do not stay with them long enough to see the impact.
There are many educators and schools doing amazing things, different things, and transforming their practice and classrooms to prepare students for a future that is very different from their own. A future we in which we are uncertain. In the same sentiment, there are many classrooms that function in similar ways that they functioned in 1893. The struggle in education is real and I believe that most people who are involved in education whether they are system leaders or classroom teachers are in it to make a positive impact. There is no one right way to improve public education. Each district and building within that district is unique. A sure fire way to improve public education is for dedicated teachers and leaders to stay involved and insert themselves into the conversation. In doing so, we must remember that attacking, demoralizing, insulting, or quitting is only one option. I would argue that it is not the best option. In many cases, it is a destructive option.
Saul Alinsky, in his revolutionary text Rules for Radicals, points out, that “The First rule of change is controversy. You can’t get away from it for the simple reason all issues are controversial. Change means movement, and movement means friction, and friction means heat, and heat means controversy.” Conflict will arise in change. It will rub people raw and our own belief systems will many times come into question. Controversy and conflict does not have to be rooted in anger. How we choose to engage in conflict that matters. Change, for it to have any real traction must be rooted in conflict and this conflict has to be productive and used as a tool rather than a weapon.
Anger divides and drains us, it rarely energizes. Anger is not a strategy. It is a distraction. Recently, it feels as if in many settings, the “Us against Them” mentality has gained momentum. It has dominated social media threads, blogs, and our politics seemingly more than ever. The profession is turning on each other and that is exactly those who want to dismantle the public education system want it to do.
Therefore, this article has inspired me to write my own “Why I stay in Teaching.” What are your top three reasons for staying?
I get the amazing opportunity to learn from other people every day. I get to engage in conversation, true dialogue, and be challenged. I get to listen to various perspectives, have my own belief systems challenged. It get to use conflict as a positive tool. I have the blessing of seeing multiple perspectives to shared dilemmas. This is not easy. I have been yelled at, insulted, had doors slammed in my face, and cursed. Yet, I have also been hugged. I have been lifted by sentiments of gratefulness. People have pushed my thinking, and I have been being willing to abandon my own notion of right and wrong and accept different truths. Dialogue is what keeps me going. It is what allows me to stay away from absolutes and continues to keep me in a “both/and” paradigm. It is the dialogue, the debate, the thinking, the challenge that keeps me going.
When I became a teacher at Wyandotte High School, we had a mantra,”The One Thing…Relationships.” That has stayed with me my entire career. Students make it worth it. Their ideas, their quirkiness, the power of their stories, their innocence and sometimes lack of innocence inspire me and give me hope. I listen to students and I know that they have power. If you allow it, they are perhaps the most powerful teachers in the building. I remember students like Chris, Brian, all the Newbills, (Aaron, Robert, Josh, and Rest in Peace Chris) Holliday, Ross , Cory, Jeffery, Obi, Eunice, Amijah, Caroline, Rian, and so many more that have had such an impact on me. There are too many students for me to list. My wrestlers, my poets, my storytellers, my dreamers, my writers, and my hell raisers. All of them have in some way changed me and I stay for them.
I love most of the people I have worked with in my career. We laugh together, argue, drink together, eat together, mourn together, learn together, cry together, and most importantly, are human together. We dare to disagree with one another. We have book clubs and groups like Grassroots who meet after hours to talk about this work. I then get the opportunity to see that work in their classrooms with their students. We get to fail together and succeed together. If it was not for my colleagues, I am not sure I would have sustained the energy to keep moving forward. As I get older, thinking I was still just a kid when I started this profession, that when we are gone, all we have is the impact that we have on the people around us. We become stories. I look to this family of teachers and celebrate the fact that we are creating our own stories. Do we have the courage to acknowledge them.
Rather than quitting, rather than casting stones at each other, rather than demonizing each other, lets create opportunities to engage in the dialogue. It takes time, patience, resolve, character, persistence, and grit. All the things that we want to teach our students. In order to do this, we have to stay in the profession and engage in conflict productively.
Keep fighting. Keep positive. Believe, and have an undying faith in positive outcomes. We need you. The kids need you. I need you.
Peace and Understanding