My teaching career is nearly finished. I’m limping along the last few days (nine more working, fifteen calendar, but who’s counting?) with some mixed emotions yet an inner resolve that I’ve made the right choice. I entered this profession because I felt a calling to give something back to my community, and while I never expected to become wealthy as an educator, I certainly didn’t expect to feel like a second-class citizen unable to participate fully in my society because of poverty either. To me, it’s disgraceful that the wealthiest nation on this planet has such disregard for its future that it has abandoned its teachers in such a callous manner. I’m not writing this post because I want pity or sympathy; rather, I simply want to catalog what I see as the overbearing tolls the current system places on educators.
My student loan debt from graduate school is now officially in default, and I will probably never crawl out from under that burden. Those loans ruined my credit early and never allowed me to establish myself financially. In order to work in this profession, I had to return to graduate school for the degree, and there was a plethora of propaganda encouraging me to take on the debt with the promise that in the long-run I would earn back more than I borrowed. However, never in my career has my salary even come close to allowing me to pay back that money. Financially, I would have been infinitely better off not attending graduate school and never teaching. There is absolutely no way this current system of over-inflated tuition and undervalued salary can sustain itself much longer. When that bubble bursts, it will do immeasurable damage to the economy.
Because of my gluten issue, I have bad teeth. A common side-effect of the disorder is that enamel doesn’t form properly, so my teeth have always been soft and susceptible to decay. For at least ten years, I’ve needed major dental work. For at the last three, I’ve needed dentures, but because of the combination of my salary, child support, and damaged credit, I can’t even afford to get my teeth pulled. If someone had told me when I first began college that I could work for sixteen years as an educator, twelve of that full-time, and still not be able to afford basic dental care, I would’ve told them they were crazy, but that’s my simple reality. I cannot continue to work as hard as I have for the majority of my career yet not be able to take care of a basic necessity like my teeth.
Speaking of how hard I’ve worked, for the majority of my career, I’ve averaged at least fifty hours a week to earn my paltry salary. At various times, I’ve also had to take on a second job and put in even more hours. Since I’ve been at WSCC, during the fall semester, I’ve averaged well over sixty hours because of dual enrollment. From mid-August until mid-December, I’ve rarely gotten more than a handful of days off through that stretch. I’ve barely had time to talk to my sons; visiting them or having them here has been impossible. For that four month stretch, my entire life has consisted of driving to work, driving back and forth to the high school, teaching, and grading. By the end of fall semester each of the last five years, I’ve been utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. When I finally expressed last semester that I could not continue in that roll, instead of finding a workable solution to the horrendous system, my superiors chose to reprimand me. I refuse to remain in a system that puts the bottom line before humanity.
I respect all of you who have expressed reservations about me leaving a profession for which I once had such passion and aptitude, but I’ve sacrificed all I am going to sacrifice for an educational system that has taken much more than it has given back. I understand that our country needs teachers now more than ever, but until this nation makes a real move to treat us as professionals, I’m certain I won’t be the last to abandon ship. At this point in my life and with the direction the system continues to slide, absolutely nothing could make me stay. With whatever time I have left on this earth, I will write, farm, work odd jobs, and do absolutely anything other than teach English to a generation that doesn’t want to learn for an administration that doesn’t care one iota for my health and well-being.