Friday, July 27, 2012

On Switching Schools

In a little more than a week, I go back to work. I report earlier than most of my colleagues because for the second time in two years, I will be new to a school division. Deciding to leave the school that took a chance on little ol' provisionally-licensed me was really hard.

Fellow Curry alums will remember the mantra know your students, know your students, know your students. When you are in the business of building relationships, it can feel hard, wrong, and maybe even damaging to your students to leave your school. The commute added up to an hour and a half each day, way-early mornings, and having even less of a life than many first-year teachers. So, when a position became open at the high school in the city where I already live, I applied. About a week after I put in my application, one of my favorite professors from grad school co-authored this study about teacher turnover negatively impacting whole schools. Awesome.

In the end, I had to decide what kind of teacher I want to be. I could be a martyr teacher who pulls myself out of a bed at 5:15 every morning and never sees my friends or take my dog for a walk. I think there are a lot of teachers like this -- especially young teachers. But I can't imagine that they last long.

I decided, instead, to be a teacher who is a real person. Living and working in the same community doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. I could have moved to the small town where I worked, but that seemed like giving up a lot for a job, too. I have an amazing network of friends where I live as well as constant access to entertainment aimed at young professionals.

As I continued to debate myself (and got the job offer), I realized two things: I cannot stem the tide of teacher turnover myself. More importantly, in any other career, accepting a job that is closer to home, pays more, and offers more benefits would be a no-brainer. So, while I couldn't "fix" teacher turnover, I could act like any other graduate-school educated professional and push against the idea of teachers as people who should sacrifice a living wage, reasonable working conditions, and a life outside the classroom. I really do believe that it will take seeing teaching as a job much like any other to increase teacher quality. I took the job.

My students at my old school were hilarious, smart, and challenging. I will miss seeing them grow and learn more. In the end, I had to take the job that made me a more whole, balanced, well-compensated person. I really do think the resulting peace of mind will make me a better teacher.

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