Why I Walked Away From Teaching in 2021
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
Oh man…..Here we go, it is finally time.
I hope you have a warm cup of coffee with you for this one because we’re going to talk about my experience with teaching as a first year teacher in a pandemic, and why I decided to walk away.
If you aren’t familiar with me or my story, I graduated from Western Illinois University in December of 2019 with a Bachelor of Studio Art. In February of 2020, I caught word that my old high school was looking for an art teacher for the coming school year. I was reluctant, but honestly didn’t have any other plan besides working as a Sandwich Artist at...you guessed it....Subway.
While I did not have my teaching license, I had taken over 40 credit hours in education courses because I originally majored in Music Education. I was familiar with methods of pedagogy and already knew how to create lesson plans. My interview went well and I ended up getting the call a few weeks later. I accepted it of course, it was the first solid job I would ever have had at that point and fresh out of college at that! I would be teaching high school art with a 7th grade class tacked on.
In July I was ready to move into my classroom and begin the cleaning process. When I tell you I was there everyday...I was. There were a lot of things to go through and a lot to clean up. Most of the staff hadn’t been back to the school since March of that year due to the pandemic and it quite literally looked like the art room had been abandoned. The previous art teacher left me everything which was a godsend and a nightmare at the same time. Simply because there was SO MUCH STUFF!!
I prepared my classroom during the summer as best I could and waited eagerly to hear what subjects I would be teaching. Two weeks before school began I was informed that I would actually be teaching 6-12 Grade Art. I was not informed by the administration of this, but by the previous art teacher. That was Red Flag Number One. Communication is key in a work environment and while there was a lot of craziness due to COVID, it would have been nice to be informed by my superiors.
The lesson plans I had anticipated making for just 7th graders now had to be modified and accommodate 6th graders and 8th graders. I took a deep breath and told myself it was okay, even though I would now be the High School AND Junior High Art Teacher, without any smidge of a pay raise. I knew the district's history and this is a very common occurrence unfortunately and I knew it was not a fight I would win. That's the story for most educators.
The school year began and I quickly started to build relationships with my students. I soon realized that I had no real idea what I was doing, but I loved seeing my students light up as they experimented with different mediums.
I won’t even go into how difficult it is to teach in a pandemic. If you are a teacher reading this, then you already know. Your job was impossible before the pandemic and even more insane now.
Every supply that my students used had to be sanitized. Class periods were only 38 minutes long. Everyone had to be fully masked the entire time and socially distanced as much as possible.
By October, I knew I was done. While I enjoyed some of my students it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. I found that as a young independent and confident woman, some of the students did not know how to handle me. I spoke my mind, I was honest, and I was positive. I had several male students who would ask me about my sexuality, would tell me I needed to find a husband, and even threatened to physically harm me. Administration barely did anything about it. Red Flag Number Two.
When Spring arrived I decided that it was time to make a statement. I had several students come out to me as queer in the mid months of school and I wanted to show them my support. I am also a queer woman and so naturally, I placed Pride Flags in both of my classrooms. The reviews were very mixed. One student even came in, looked at it, laughed, and then said to me “Why is THAT THING in here?” Red Flag Number Three.
Growing up, I knew that the community was small, but I never imagined the hateful comments I could hear come from the mouths of small children and even some instructors. As educators, regardless of what was thrown at us daily either by the media, our students, or their parents, we were expected to do it all with a smile. It was one of the most mentally challenging times of my life and I became clinically depressed.
If it weren’t for the toxic environment of the community I also realized a few other things very quickly.
Teachers are underpaid, unappreciated, and expected to not only teach children, but raise them, feed them, protect them, mother them, and discipline them, all with a smile and now make sure they don't get a life threatening illness. There’s a reason we have a teacher shortage in this country. Being a teacher has to be one of the most martyr-mindset occupations in the world. The instructors that I worked with every day had more strength than I’ve seen in most common people.
All in all, I was unhappy so I left and therefore, I am not a victim. That’s all there is to it. I miss my students and even see some of them now and then and I’m happy to hear that they’re still in art! I still love that community, it’s where I grew up, but I couldn’t stay. The world I live in is very different from that world. I am happy to say that I now have two freelance art businesses and my very own art studio.
There was more to the story than what I've put here, but for legal reasons, I won't be saying more.
If you’re reading this and are somehow involved with the district, I am positive that things have changed for the better. To the staff there, I applaud you. You are heroes.
I simply did not wish to be one.