Recovering Teacher

Looking for a new job has intimidated the hell out of me and I've been wondering why. I'm pretty smart, I write fairly well and am well read, I'm not too ugly, I can walk and chew gum at the same time (but can't rub my stomach while patting my head or vice versa), and have worked in challenging schools with really interesting kids for over two decades. I've done adjunct teaching at a couple local colleges and come out with glowing reviews. Why then do I have such difficulty imagining I could get a new job? Why do I feel so unworthy?

It's because of teaching.

There's the claim that teaching is a soft, cushy job. You get your summers off! Teaching kids is considered women's work — for years only women could be convinced to do it &mdash. This hasn't been meant as a compliment. Teaching is classified as something other than real work, whatever that's supposed to be, and there has been a very public assault on teaching and teachers that began before I graduated college, intensified under Clinton, continued through W, became even worse under Obama (who broke my heart), and was really embraced by miserable fractions of manhood such as Scott Walker. The message was simple: teachers suck and deserve no respect or pay. They are everything wrong with society.

Thanks, fellas!

Some of that message has stuck despite my knowing that teachers do good, tough work under intense conditions. I know better than to give the attacks any credence, but they've dragged down my spirit nonetheless.

Closer to home, I got mugged by the performance reviews. One year I was to be evaluated on New York State Regents scores. I teach at-risk kids who don't test well, and needed two-thirds of them to pass.

I had one kid taking it.

She didn't pass. Not even two-thirds of her.

I was rated "developing," the second lowest mark, and put on a teacher improvement plan. I was rated developing for three years straight. The ratings were all bogus, but being told annually that I suck took a toll.

This year, burned out on teaching, I decided to quit. Everyone asked, what are you going to do instead? I shrugged. I didn't know. I couldn't imagine anything for which I might be qualified. I'm a teacher and teachers all suck. Those who get poor ratings on a bad system suck even more. I really felt worthless and depressed. Instead of applying for jobs, I fell further into depression.

Yeah, I blame teaching.

I'm coming out of that depression. I've applied for jobs and had interviews. None of the jobs are in public school teaching. It will be years before I can go back to that. I'm applying for jobs that feel beyond me but which friends assure me I'm qualified. I'm learning to trust them rather than the cruel voice teaching has cultivated in me like some awful parrot repeating, you suck, you suck, you suck.

I've been a teacher a long time. It will take a while to shake off the side effects. Meanwhile, tell the nearest teacher that they don't suck, that they matter beyond their ratings, and that you appreciate them doing tough work you wouldn't ever want to do. I'm not the only one feeling the side effects. I'm not the only one quitting. And I sure hope I'm not the only one recovering from the side effects and coming to believe. We all deserve that.