an open letter to my teaching career
A stack of books I'd have in my classroom library if I were still teaching, accompanied by a sweet note from a former student.
To my teaching career (and the nearly 1,000 students and athletes I taught and coached):
It's been eight months since I left the classroom after five-and-a-half years of teaching high school English (with a quick stint as a World Geography teacher), and I left rather unceremoniously. I left quietly, almost as though I was nervous for people to know.
It was the middle of a pandemic, and I was worried about perception: What would people think of me walking out of the classroom, walking out on a school in the middle of the year in the midst of a global pandemic? Thankfully, my school found a replacement and I was able to onboard them, so that side of my worry ebbed a smidge.
I don't want to talk too much about the pandemic because that would overshadow the other incredible years I spent as an educator, but I would be remiss to glaze over it. The pandemic showed us just how little society values teachers: From teachers being superheroes at the start of the pandemic, to teachers being lazy and wanting a paycheck without putting in the work, to teachers being complainers about "having to work during the pandemic even though the rest of society is also working." Eye. Roll.
There are so many flaws and issues with all of that, and I'm not going to get into it, but this is a plea I have for those of you who know and love a teacher: Check on them. Ask them how they're doing. Venmo them $5 so they can grab coffee on the way to school this morning. If you're able, buy them something for their classroom. Send them a text in the middle of the day. They're starting a school year that is arguably more nerve-wracking than last year. Sure, maybe they're vaccinated, but there are most likely little-to-no safety precautions in place at their schools in a world that has decided this pandemic is over, when it very much isn't. Just check on them.
Back to my letter.
My decision to leave the classroom wasn't easy. I poured my heart and soul into teaching from my very first day as an English I teacher at Hillcrest High School in Dallas (where I also led Young Life) to my last day at Dulles High School in Sugar Land (my alma mater) as a World Geography teacher, and everywhere in between. I think if you asked any student I taught over the years, they would say I gave my all to my lessons even on my hardest days, treated them with kindness and respect, and hoped for the best for them (I hope they would say that).
But sometimes, when you look at the trajectory of your life and where you want to be, both personally and professionally, you realize what you're doing at that moment in time isn't the future. And that's where I was. Prior to teaching, I worked in public relations, a career I loved and was good at (at least I thought so!). Returning to the PR world had been in the back of my mind; it was just a matter of knowing when the time was right.
And trust me, I was nervous to make the jump back to PR. Everyone always told me, "Go chase your passions; PR will be waiting for you when you're ready." That's nice to hear, but putting it into practice made me a little nervous. What if there wasn't a job waiting for me? What if employers were concerned about me switching industries? We're in the middle of a pandemic, after all, and while there seemed to be a plethora of job openings, there were also quadruple the number of applicants (or so it seemed).
But I knew that fear couldn't keep me where I was. It wasn't fair to me or my students. I knew I wasn't able to give them 100 percent of myself, and that's just not right. As a teacher, you're dealing with human lives and their futures, even if our interactions were just a blip in their education. They still deserved an all-in me, and I wasn't able to give that to them anymore. That's how I knew it was time to walk away.
This is not to say that teaching didn't give me some of the absolute best memories of my life. My students taught me, as well. When I set out to be a teacher, I didn't truly understand the magnitude of what these kids would do for me, how they would transform my life. I can still recall times I laughed so hard I cried and times I cried so hard I carried that weight home with me.
So, if you are a former student reading this, know that I am so incredibly thankful for the mark you made on my life. I meant every word of those notes I wrote you at the end of the school year (FBCA students, I so badly wanted to get these notes to you but with the pandemic and Nora coming early, I wasn't able to). I hope you know that my decision to leave the classroom had nothing to do with you. I am thankful for the laughs, the tough conversations, the impressive work you did, the book talks, the hallway hellos (I miss those), and watching you at your extracurricular activities. I miss it all.
But I also know I'm exactly where I am supposed to be now. And I am happy.
If there's one thing I can leave you with, it's this: Teaching is hard work. It's not an 8-3 job, summers off, easy breezy lifestyle. And if we want strong, productive, kind and empathetic leaders and contributors to society, we need good teachers. And we, as a society, need to respect them and their profession and treat them like the professionals they are. Plain and simple.
To my mentors and colleagues who were there to share laughs and tears in our classrooms/offices, on the way to get coffee, on the court or field, or during PD (maybe more tears than laughs there...kidding...?), thank you for being some of the truest friends and confidants I've known.
And once again, to my students: Thank you.