Way back in 2011, I was a Special Education Teacher at a local Junior High and before that I had been the same at the middle/high school grades, in a private school that primarily served students that I will call – the ones who didn’t fit in the typical public school.
When I left in 2011 I would like to believe that I was a good teacher, not great, but good.
Finally, after writing my post yesterday, I am ready to say the real reason that I left teaching. You know the real one that once you get beyond the excuses and rationales that I used to allow myself to leave when I did.
The real reason might surprise many and sound kind of hokey but I know, what I know.
When I hear about why veteran teachers leave teaching, we hear about how little they are compensated, lack of respect as professionals in their field and in their classroom, unhealthy work/life balance, being forced to teach to the test or artificial standard, the number of hours beyond the work day that teachers are expected to volunteer of their personal time towards work, student behaviors that were allowed to continue, the out-of-pocket expenses that are expected of teachers and however many other things that can be seen as a negative by many teachers.
As a teacher I whined, complained about all those things and more, but for the most part I dealt them, just like most teachers. They were part of the deal and while they contributed to my disillusionment of teaching, they were not the reason I left.
When I look back the real reason I left.
- I had given too many pieces of my heart and just couldn’t give anymore.
As a teacher, every year I gave pieces of my heart unconditionally to students in my classes, even the students that were the most difficult to have in your class. I think every teacher does.
For me it was even more difficult, because for many of the students I had in my classes through the years, school was not what most people expect the experience to be and they all had their unresolved challenges – academics, behavioral, emotional and mental health issues. It was my responsibility as their teacher and special education case manager, to help them make progress and sometimes, hell most of the time – academics was the least of my worries – though I still did.
On top of that during my last year of teaching, I had been unable to care for myself physically due to a knee injury, which resulted in a cascade of negative physical conditions that took their toll on my ability to cope with the neediness of my students and my ability to balance life and work.
Looking back honestly, when I left it wasn’t for the usual reasons and you can laugh if you want, but the reason I left is that:
- I didn’t have enough heart left to continue.
I had given too many pieces of my heart to my students, I cared about them, worried about what they were doing after school, at home, how could I help them more and it wore on me. Even after they were no longer “my” students and they had become young adults.
So often I felt like a failure, because no matter what I did, nothing much seemed to change for the better for my students…year-after-year.
I wasn’t very good at letting things go and still not all that good at it.
Did I make a difference for some students – Yes, I think I did for some. To others I was just an impediment to them getting what they wanted – “I was that mean old bastard”. There are times when I think about things that happened or didn’t happen and still wonder what I could have done better or differently to reach that student.
I know that life is long past, but I still care.
When students fail, their lives fall apart and you can do nothing but stand there and watch it happen or read about it – it takes a piece of your heart and it hurts too much.
No, the Garrett in the story, was not one of my students, but change the name and from what I know, some (not all), maybe more of my former student’s stories are not all that much different than his. Which is why the tears flowed so freely while reading Garrett’s story, he could have very easily have been one of my students.
I had given too many pieces of my heart away to my students and I think that I am not alone, judging from conversations I have had with other former teachers.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it anymore and in the end that is the real reason why I left teaching and will never return.