Some of my fondest school memories were those of elementary school. I think I caught the system at just the right time. Teachers weren’t just yet constricted by state or school enforced testing requirements. Every single teacher I had up to fourth grade was a second mom to me. Every single one. I remember all their names, all of their mannerisms, what they would wear, what their classrooms looked like. I remember it all. At that time, if anyone had asked me, I wanted to be a teacher.
I come from a family of teachers. My mom was a teacher in higher-level education. I have two aunts who taught reading literacy at the elementary level. These women continue to be some of the smartest people I know. What attracted me to the field of education initially was the amount of impact my teachers made in my life. I am convinced we are humans molded from the hands of our teachers. A product of their values, patience, and passion for teaching.
As I started growing up, I witnessed the evolution of the United States school system. My first standardized, state mandated test was in fourth grade. It was called the PSSA, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. I was home this weekend talking to my mom and she shared that I was actually the first year of PSSA students. Following that test in fourth grade, I spent the entirety of my middle school without any major standardized test. Looking back, I could not be more thankful for that knowing the terrible test taker I am.
I moved after ninth grade from Pennsylvania to Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a huge shift for me academically. I landed in a county that had the highest teacher turnover rate in the entire state of North Carolina, a state that ranks 48th in teacher pay in the country. Suddenly, “EOGs” was a phrase that became all too familiar. Teachers centered class days around them. The administration at Millbrook High School mandated that all teachers write the objective they’d be teaching for the EOG on the board each school day. It was crazy what these teachers had to do, along with duties outside the classroom (i.e. lunch duty, bus duty, etc.). A lot of teachers coached or led extracurriculars after the school day for extra pay. I had a teacher who was a pool manager in the summer; another was a tutor for a private company. It seemed that few solely relied on teaching for income.
What blows my mind is that Millbrook teachers are, quite honestly, the best teachers I’ve ever had. Their days are restricted, their pay concerning (to say the least), school days turn to school nights grading papers and prepping for the next day, and, yet, despite this, I attribute all my academic success as a junior at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to them.
With that being said, I don’t know how they do it. I no longer want to be a teacher. It’s become an unsustainable lifestyle of hard, hard, hard work. Susan Jolley, a former teacher, opens her essay saying,
“I have often thought that without my career and all I have learned from it, I might be a much different person, much poorer in my understanding of human nature, adolescence, history, sociology, the arts, the creative process, and the complexity surrounding every facet of learning and personal growth.”
Education, in its purest form, has always been a magical field. It’s time to give that magic back to the teachers.