Now I know why we quit. You always hear people say that teachers quit because of the excess paperwork or common core or standardized testing etc. But that’s not why this generation walks away from the profession. All we know of being an educator is paperwork, common core and state testing. It’s been drilled into our heads in college classrooms, and it’s what we’ve experienced during our internships. We’re familiar with it.
That’s not why young teachers quit. We quit because we were taught you could change the world if you tried hard enough and wanted it with all your heart.
In college, we were forced to read (and watch) The Freedom Writers by Erin Gruwell. The story tells of this amazing woman in extremely difficult circumstances who changed her students’ lives. It made us cry. It impassioned us; we talked about it for days, and when we got into the classroom, by God, that’s what we were going to do.
And so we got into the classroom, and we tried those things…and they didn’t work. And we poured affection on those kids, and we pushed them to reach their potential…and they didn’t care. We showed them worlds of opportunities and opened doors for them…and they didn’t care. We looked into their eyes and said “No one else might believe in you, but I do, and I will NEVER give up on you.” And we didn’t. We kept our word…and they didn’t care.
And so we thought, well maybe I don’t care enough. So we bought them tools for learning with money out of our own pockets, and in the afternoons we would find them crumpled up under the desks or in the trash…and they didn’t care.
And sometimes those two things end in stalemate: We don’t give up, and they don’t care.
And that’s okay.
I’m 24. In a few weeks I’ll sign a teaching contract for my third year, and I’ll keep teaching because I love my school and I love my kids. And I’ll keep pushing them and mentoring them and opening as many opportunities as I can because they matter, and I hope one day they’ll see that.
What our college professors and Erin Gruwell taught us was if you only care enough, you can change the world, but Erin Gruwell’s success wasn’t solely based on her passion. It was passion mixed with luck. There are hundreds of teachers as competent and passionate about their kids as Erin, but she got the perfect, lucky 7 mix of them.
We quit because we thought we could make a difference. And the reality is, to most of our kids, we don’t. It’s emotionally draining. Give us time to adjust to the real world; give us time to overcome our naivety, and stop pumping us with unrealistic dogma.