Burned-INterview #5: This BiT is Burned-Out by Lack of Growth and Respect: Something She Found Easily within Another Company
BiT Interviews are completely anonymous and are conducted to get to know what burned-out teachers or current teachers are feeling and going through before they have either left or leave the education profession.
AH: (Me!) Amber HarperBiT: Interviewee
AH: How many years have you been teaching?
BiT: 16 years, most years at the same school, same building, same grade, even the same classroom.
AH: What do you feel is the best part of your job?
BiT: The kids and the relationships. Nothing else really is intriguing or important about teaching, in my opinion.
AH: Can you give me an example of a relationship that you have established?
BiT: Two students come to mind. This is the first year that I have been recognized for a relationship that I have build with a student at Junior Honor Society. One student still comes down to talk to me on a regular basis. After being recognized by a now senior this year, I was like, "Oh! Wow! It really does matter what we do!" You know, we go years and years without being recognized and all of the sudden, you have graduates reach out and tell you that you made an impact on them and you're like, "Whoa, really?"
AH: What is the worst, for you, about teaching?
BiT: Personally, this year has been hard for me because I am recently divorced and you know what teaching is like. You give and give and give all day and then you come home and you have nothing left to give. Well, before, I had my husband who could kind of help a little bit with our daughter, but now, I come home and I look at her and I think, I am so tired I can't even be a mom that you need. So this year has been hard because I feel like all of my most important energy should be poured into her and by the time I get home, I don't have anything left to give her. At this point, I only have 50% of her life and I keep thinking that either I'm going to be a really great teacher and pour it all into my kids at school, or am I going to be a really great mom and pour all of that energy into my daughter. I think part of it is too, that I want to be able to pour into her.
And, with this job, I don't know if I can give for her what I want to financially. When I retire, I won't have much there, you know? Part of it, also, is that I want to be able to provide for her. If I keep teaching, I don’t know that I can give her what I want to give her in the future, monetarily. I got my first raise this year in eight years and it didn’t even cover the hike in our insurance expenses. So, I’m like, what am I saving for? I’m not going to have much to retire on. So, I'm thinking, "Is all of this worth it... I mean, I FEEL SO HORRIBLE SAYING THIS!
(I interrupt the teacher…)
Every time that I have a conversation with teachers, they feel, at first, that they can’t be honest. But, THAT’S WHY I’M DOING THESE INTERVIEWS! We have GOT to start having these conversations and addressing these things. We can’t keep feeling bad about talking about our feelings! I have felt in the past, the same way. I have felt that if I say what I’m really feeling, then I’m a terrible person and I’m a terrible teacher. But, this is our job and this is our LIFE! If we can’t be honest, and we go to work and keep all of these things inside, we can’t be our best for our kids, because they ARE our kids! I’ve heard a lot, and I want you to be open and honest. This is totally anonymous and you are safe to be real with me.
BiT: That brings me to my next stressor. I feel like when we
feeling stressed and overwhelmed, there is NOTHING to support you. For example, we are now considered a “B” school, but now the stress to perform well has gotten so high. But, the kids that I have this year are not the same kids that I’ll have next year. I keep hearing, “We have to get a B, we have to get a B, we have a B!” But I don’t feel that it’s in the best interest of the teachers or the kids. I don’t feel that we should have to feel so stressed about it. I mean, I’m shoving stuff down these kids throat for three weeks, they are barely retaining it past the three weeks and what’s it for? Is it for the kids or for you? And, who’s going to take credit for it? (You being administration.) Or is it me who’s doing the work for you? I feel like our admin is all about claiming the success, but the teachers, ultimately, are the ones putting all of these things in place. They are only looking at how my kids are performing. It was just recorded, not acknowledged. I had a rough year, admittedly, but I don’t feel that I was supported when it was tough for me.
AH: So, how would you like to be supported?
BiT: So this is a little strange, but I recently started selling beauty products. I know this is weird, but it actually brought back some of my passion for teaching, because of the team aspect of this company. I mean, at school, I am constantly pitted against other teachers all the time. We test the kids and then our results are slapped up on a board against the other teachers and then I am judged based on how well or how poorly my students performed against yours. So this teacher is giving a study guide, and this teacher is keeping kids after school. So, I’m thinking, what am I supposed to do? Is this supposed to be authentic? Because if it is, then I teach it and then I post test it. I feel like the teamwork is completely gone. I feel like we used to collaborate together and now it is,“Who is teaching it best?’ When we get into that room and your percentages are the best and everyone is like, “WOW! You must be a rockstar at teaching that. How did you do it?” And, I feel like, yes, you might be a rockstar, BUT what if the kids already knew it or they just got it really fast. I mean, there are so many other factors. I felt judged for things that I believe are ultimately out of my control. I feel like usually my kids perform pretty high, because I teach High Ability, but this year they haven’t. They are weaker in math especially, and now I feel judged instead of supported. Administration is sitting in the meetings and I was approached like, “Are you worried about ISTEP?” And of course I am, but what am I supposed to do? That’s just where they’re at. I don’t know what to do with what you are saying to me!
AH: I’ve always been so confused about that. Like, how can you REALLY compare my students’ scores from this year to my students’ scores from last year? I don’t have the same kids, at all! How can you compare brains like that?
BiT: That’s where I feel like that school score is a joke. When our kids move to high school, the makeup of our school changes by the kids that are coming in. It seems ridiculous to me that you can compare last year to this year.
That whole way of looking at my success has really burned me out. I know that you want me to get these kids to perform, but you aren’t telling what to do other that teach them what you are telling me to teach them and then giving them these tests and then hoping that they retain it. The energy level of my daughter and the lack of teamwork has really burned me out. Between teachers and between administrations. Even three to four years ago it was like, how can we get through this together? What can we do about this? And now it is just full-bore, full steam ahead without support from other teachers and administrators when you are having a hard time.
AH: I want to back up a minute and talk more about the beauty products that you are selling. You said that it helped you spark something. Can you tell me more about that?
BiT: It is really team oriented. It is so great because everyone is helping each other and they tell you what to do and you do it and it works! And I’m like, “Well, that was easy!”
AH: Did that help you feel better about school? Having that separate entity that was going really well?
BiT: It did! I just started in May and I’m already ‘leveling up!’ I have already been growing and climbing the ladder!
AH: That is so interesting to me that you get to grow so quickly, because you have been teaching in the same classroom and the same school for so long and have seen no professional growth, and you’re seeing growth in this company so quickly. That has to help you feel better about life, right?
BiT: Yeah, and you have all of these people around you, supporting you and wanting you to level up and grow quickly. It’s mostly women and it’s really empowering!
AH: This makes so much sense to me and I am so inspired by this! I have had conversations with so many other teachers and they all have the same struggles: lack of support from administrators, other teachers, and parents, poor student behavior. I’m hearing you talk about how this other entity, seperately from school, is making you feel empowered, helping you to have a more positive outlook on your professional life. That’s so huge to me! I am so happy for you!
AH: Besides the beauty products, which sounds like its own sort-of therapy, have you sought out any help?
BiT: I’ve done some reading, but there isn’t a solution. I’ve even sought out jobs that I can do with an education degree.
AH: I hear you! I think we have all searched for things we can do that could make us feel more empowered, more respected, and make us more money.
BiT: I know! I mean, I am an educated person and I am struggling to pay my heating bill in the winter! I feel like that’s ridiculous! So, that in addition to all of the other stressors really makes it hard for me to stay in education.
AH: So with the extra money that you are bringing in with the beauty product sales, are you hoping to continue teaching?
BiT: Yes, I would like to.
AH: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you need to stay?
BiT: I think to become a team again. I don’t know how to do that, but I feel like we aren’t anymore. I think to be able to be real. I feel like everyone has this fake, school persona that they walk in everyday and ‘everything’s great!’ And I don’t know what your population is like, but with our kids, things aren’t great at home and you have to be the positive thing in their life and you can’t crack.
I started looking for different jobs the second that I felt like I couldn’t trust the people that I worked with.They don’t see me as a human. If they see me as only a producer of goods, then why am I here? Yes, I love these kids and I love that I can be someone that they can look up to. But, if I can’t be a WHOLE me, then I can’t be anyone that they can look up to. I mean, when I was having a really rough time, I was pulled into the office and told that I need to change my attitude. I wasn’t even asked what the problem was, and you know what? If I would have been honest, IF they would have asked me, I would have been accused of being negative.
I feel like, “Just replace me.” Really, you are giving me a written curriculum, no creative power, do the pre/post test, and move on. And we also have the computer tests and I’m just done! The kids are done. It’s just too much pressure.
Take Aways and Tips
This interview was really powerful. We had a really deep conversation about the power of true teamwork, the need to trust, and be honest. What I also took away from this interview, more than the need for teamwork, was the need for growth and the need for encouragement from those around you when you need help.
There have been so many times, in my 11 years of teaching, where I have had a rough go of things, whether it was my class or personal obstacles that were effecting my attitude at work. Rather than being asked what was wrong, I have also been pulled into my administrator’s office and told that I need to quit being disrespectful and fix it. No questions. No worry about my well-being. Just fix it. Respect us. Complete apathy for my situation. It’s really hurtful to know that I don’t really matter to those that I work with.
Now, on the flip-side, I have also had coworkers listen, relate to, and cry with me because they understand what I’m going through. THAT is the kind of empathy that needs to be in our schools for our teachers. Am I saying that our principals should cry for us? NO! But at least ask questions instead of making assumptions.
I am completely intrigued by the outside business that this teacher has gotten involved in too. The fact that passion is being brought back into her teaching because of an outside entity is so exciting and further deepens my opinion that teachers, just like students, need encouragement and growth opportunities where they struggle.
A couple of tips from this interview:
- Find a place, whether its within your school or not, where you can grow and go for it! What are your passions in school? What are your passions outside of school? I guarantee you, you find that something and see growth, your life will change! I have experienced it!
- I’ve said it before. Not all grade levels, buildings, or corporations are created or run equally. Think of your personality type. Are you someone who loves change and you just realized that you have been teaching in the same grade level and classroom for 15 years? Maybe what you need is a big change in grade level, building, or… dare I say? Career.
- Respect yourself. What I love about this teacher is that she is not willing to live her life being someone else’s pawn. She knows what she needs to be her true self and love life and she is going for it. She knows what is important to her and she is respecting those truths. You should too.
BiTs, we have to be our own heroes. No one else is going to save us. We have to demand control of our lives.
Tony Gaskins, Jr. says- “If you don’t build your own dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.”
This could be translated to : “If you don’t build your own beliefs about yourself as a teacher and human, someone else will build them for you; whether or not you give them consent or believe them yourself.”
That’s no way to teach, work, or live. So, I leave you with this call to action:
WHAT ARE YOUR BELIEFS ABOUT YOURSELF? Tell me.
Let’s have a conversation.