Seems I read a headline daily about the surging teacher shortage, and stories abound of educators who are exiting the profession at all levels. I’ve always believed that people should follow their heart’s desire and nothing is more miserable than doing something that you do not desire to do any longer. I’m thankful for every educator who chose this noble profession, those who are leaving or have already left, and those of us who are choosing to stay.
This era of public education reminds me of two distinct periods during my career. I started teaching in the late 90’s. Openings were everywhere. I came home for Spring break as a senior in college and went back to school with a job secured. State standards were the hot topic, and hobby teaching was said to be no more. Technology was about to disrupt the way we communicated because email was going to change the way we worked and help us all be more efficient.
Fast forward to 2011, and in South Carolina our new State Superintendent, was Mick Zais (who went on to be Deputy Secretary of Education under Betsy Devos). Those years with Zais at the helm in South Carolina were difficult and challenging for public education. Schools and districts were rated with letter grades A-F, funding was pushed toward a massive school choice movement, and many did not think we’d survive his tenure, or No Child Left Behind, but we did.
And here we are now in 2022. Public education has endured a global pandemic, challenges to broadband access, increased mental health needs of all stakeholders, educators included, and a complete disruption to the way we live, work, play, and learn when it comes to technology. Add to it the polarizing debates of our time including CRT, book banning, and vaccinations, and you get what we have today: messiness. I completely get why some folks are choosing to walk away from the field. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It is more challenging than it’s ever been before. I understand. I really do, and I’m not judging anyone for doing what they feel is right for them.
But I can’t leave. My soul won’t let me. For me, the right thing is to stay, and to keep fighting for what I know is an essential cornerstone of democracy: public education. I might be wrong, but I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that we’ll survive this era too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks return because passion doesn’t lie and it doesn’t die. It may flicker, but that flame is always there.
The way I see, now more than ever, I have a chance to make a difference in the field that I love so much. My goal is to do just that in my work, my words, and with all I have the opportunity to interact with in this field. The time to make a difference isn’t when things are easy, but when they are hard, and that’s why I’m choosing to stay. I want to see what happens if I don’t give up and I know that our children need strong, positive, effective, and resilient educators, and I want to be one of them.
Before anyone accuses me of toxic positivity, allow me to make it clear: this work is hard. Everyday is not sunshine and rainbows. Some days are very stressful and some problems are taxing and challenging. I would never deny that. I’ve lived it as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. It’s not easy, and I’d never make any attempt to say otherwise.
Even so, I am staying. It’s MY civic duty. I owe the change in my life’s trajectory to public education. Growing up in poverty in a single parent household and in a housing project, I know first hand the power and influence of a good public education. My life is a living testimony to what a great public education can do and how it can change the future for generations to come with a single quality experience for one student. Thank God that my teachers stayed and didn’t give up on me or the field. I’m sure they had challenging times too. Without my education, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so my commitment is simply a return on investment.
For those who are leaving or have already left, thank you! Thank you for sharing your minds and hearts with our children, and making a difference where you were and with the children you served. You are truly appreciated, and I feel sure after 23 years in this field that you’ll see a return on your investment when the children whose lives you’ve touched are successful, productive, and contributing citizens of our society. I hope you’ll find a way to continue to support this great and noble profession. We are going to need your support and encouragement!
To those of us who are choosing to stay, I see you! Let’s stick together and do the work that we know makes a difference. No matter what happens in the future, let’s not forget that. I’ll see y’all on the battlefield. We’ve got work to do!
Y’all be easy,