Five years ago, I was fresh out of the Boston Teacher Residency and ready to begin a career in teaching. I was deliberate in choosing my school: I wanted one of those seemingly-intractable urban public schools that I had studied both at BTR and at Harvard. I found just the place and went in with my eyes wide open.
My first year, I was busy, exhausted, and strangely content in the struggle. And, I had a strong footing in what teaching was supposed to be all about: I felt successful with my students. I had a desire to innovate; Some of my colleagues said I was a “breath of fresh air.” My passion for the potential I saw in our students – even the ones who were not in my classroom – buoyed me as I began a long and arduous swim against the tide in my school building.
Fast forward to now.
This past June, on a steamy hot Friday afternoon, I packed up the last relics of my classroom and turned off the light in Room 10 for the last time. It was an emotional moment; the memories of the 87 children I taught in that classroom formed a tangible lump in my throat. An unfamiliar sensation of failure and guilt washed over me. So, what happened?
The best way I can describe what happened over the course of four years is a gradual wearing down of my spirit. Am I being dramatic? Yes, because it was dramatic. I had never experienced anything like that before. I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. Any. More. It was not a question of effort. It was certainly not a question of efficacy. It was, however, a perfect storm: change-resistant colleagues, a principal unable or unwilling to motivate and lead them.
Having success within the walls of my classroom left me wanting more. Last year, I quietly struggled through the most difficult year I have faced as a teacher. Solitary and cold mornings prepping for the day’s lessons were lonelier and colder than in past years. The most shocking thing to admit – even to myself- was that my own intrinsic motivation was not enough. I did not have the energy, the passion, or the self-discipline to truly carry out the work of an excellent teacher each and every day. That was a crushing realization.
It is from an intensely personal place that I helped to draft our Ready for the Next Challenge proposal. Our work so closely mirrored my daily reality – the importance of being part of a team of like-minded colleagues echoed through the empty hallways of my school building each and every day. It was the people – the grown up ones – that would have made the difference for me.
My newfound teacher friends who described different work environments convinced me that I could find a school with excellent peer teachers and outstanding leadership. I found one and that’s where I’ll be next year.
But, back to the lump in my throat from the last day of school. It’s still there. What will happen to my students? What will happen to the handful of teachers in my school who are excellent? Will the woman who replaces me soon become a shadow of her former teacher self? My new school is literally around the corner from the old one – you can glimpse one from the other on the top floor. We serve the same neighborhood, but in dramatically different ways.
I can find solace in the fact that I was able to make changes in my old building. I am not leaving the profession entirely. I am not even moving out to the suburbs. But, I am doing what so many of us Gen Y-ers will do: I am voting with my feet.
-Guestblogger Maria Fenwick, Teacher, Boston Public Schools