Raise Your Hand if You Used to be a Teacher: Sharing My Story as a Cautionary Tale and Plea for Change

3

Two years ago I made the almost unbearably painful choice to leave my dream teaching job and become a “stay at home mom” (although these days more like, “stay in the car mom” #justsaying). More seriously: Since the transition from full-time middle school English teacher to full-time mom/chauffeur, I’ve met many moms who had to make the same tough choice between their kids and careers, in some capacity and for a variety of reasons (pre AND during the pandemic). But what’s been particularly shocking, and lately, increasingly infuriating to me, is how many of those moms left the teaching profession specifically. 

Imagine you’re getting to know someone and ask them what they do for work. The exchange goes something like:

“Oh, I used to teach (insert grade level here), but I stopped teaching before I had (insert baby #1’s name here).”

“Really? I had to do the same! I used to teach (insert grade level here), but I quit because my entire salary went to cover the cost of childcare.”

There’s so much discussion and judgment about what makes a good school, especially in Arizona where parents have the ability to open enroll their children almost anywhere. You know what makes a school “good”? I’ll give you some leading hints. A school is not good based on its location or facilities, its organic lunch program, or its special curriculum or language immersion program. These things are nice, but grass-fed hamburgers at lunch or flexible seating PALES in comparison to what I believe and found truly makes a school good: its teachers.

Teachers. 

Recently, I discovered Arizona ranked 46th in the nation for education. Forty freaking six! And it’s made me so, so angry because of all the women I meet who would have been–as I believe I could have been— strong, even outstanding, teachers. But they chose or had to choose to leave the profession–and by proxy, our struggling schools– because, for most of them, the untenable demands and insulting salaries don’t allow them to support their own families, physically or financially. (PS, this plight affects male teachers too who can’t sustain teaching and support their families either).

We are failing our schools and children. We are failing our schools and children because we treat teachers like crap— and that’s a PG/PC word for how I really feel. Our teachers are educating our kids. EDUCATING OUR KIDS. And yet, we throw more and more demands on them– literally taking their sweat and tears, and in turn, repay them with what? Starbucks cards and hugs?

I was a good teacher, and from what many students and parents and former administrators told me, I could have been an exceptional one. I am a masters-educated summa cum laude graduate, but that’s just paper. More importantly, I also have a fiery passion for teaching English, for teaching students that their words MATTER– for teaching students that THEY matter. I taught students that we read to understand and we write to be understood. And it still physically pains me to think of all the stories and words I’ve missed reading and discussing with my seventh and eighth grade students.

But I couldn’t handle the demands of the job and the demands of my own home and three  young kids. I nearly had a nervous breakdown trying, and at one point near the end of my rope,  I was told by one administrator that I was  “too stressy”. Too stressy? I was barely sleeping and I started suffering debilitating and dizzying panic attacks in the classroom. My blood pressure rose (although, before I saw a doctor, I thought my dizzy spells were the result of too much coffee). 

It felt as if I was drowning and instead of coming to my aid with a buoy, a person who was supposed to support me, instead, used their hand to push me farther underwater. 

Why are we drowning our teachers and sinking our schools?? The teachers I’ve come to know as a colleague and as a parent, are amazing, but they’re suffering so much. They are in boats with holes and no life jackets, and sooner or later, many give up trying to paddle and stay afloat. We are hemorrhaging teachers in our state and nationwide. In a recent survey, more than 50 percent of teachers say they are considering or have considered leaving the profession earlier than intended due to stressors. We are asking too much and they are giving up on the journey. 

Not to co-opt a line from a few good men, but I know that the powers that be— and the powers that deny teachers higher pay and better conditions— want me and all the other former teacher moms I’ve met in those classrooms (i.e., on that wall). They need us in those classrooms. 

We must do better. I don’t know how, and I apologize for the lack of a solution to end this with, but I am hoping that sharing my story of a certified, credentialed, experienced teacher who wants to teach but emotionally and financially can’t afford to will help shed light on all the teachers we are losing. The teachers we could probably keep with higher salaries, mental health support, benefits, protections, but most of all, respect. 

Whether you agree or disagree, I hope that sharing my story makes you feel something, especially if you’re in my boat: a former teacher and now enraged parent. I hope it makes you feel something and start a non-politicized discussion about how we can change things. Because one thing is clear: We need a better boat for our teachers and for our kids. 

Previous articleUltimate Guide to Summer Camps in Phoenix 2022
Next articleThe Best Parks and Playgrounds In and Around Phoenix
After more than a decade in the Windy City--and a two-year stay in Dallas, TX-- Rachel Bronson is thrilled to be back in her native city to raise her three kids along with her best friend and husband of 11 years, Dan. Life with twin seven-year-old girls and a crazy three-year-old little man is always busy, but Rachel, a former journalist and middle school English teacher, loves to write and is passionate about empowering and helping fellow mamas embrace real and raw motherhood. A longtime anxiety warrior, Rachel is also passionate about sharing her struggles and how she fights anxiety and perfectionism with heavy doses of personal development, mindset work, and lots of sweating to home workouts! When she’s not writing, working out, or momming, Rachel can likely be found meal prepping, baking, reading, listening to another podcast, or watching the next episode of a binge-worthy Netflix show with her husband.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Rachel, you are such an important voice for educators and education itself! With students baring the brunt of lost learning over the past two years it only serves to highlight the loss of excellent teachers like yourself. You were a gift to the classroom and the students who encountered you. Keep speaking out. We need to hear from you. Sue

  2. Thank you for this post! We are, indeed, in a crisis situation here in Arizona, with more than 2,000 classrooms without a certified teacher. Teachers DO make schools great! Experienced, effective teachers boost test scores and the quality ratings of schools. They engage our students, making them confident, life-long learners. I wish that my response did not have to veer towards politics, but I write an unavoidable truth. If certain bills being considered this legislative session get signed into law, there will likely be a mass exodus of quality, experienced teachers fleeing the profession. Our teachers are tired of the disrespect and intimidation tactics used against them by our lawmakers. One Scottsdale lawmaker recently called teachers “educational terrorists,” simply because they showed up at the capitol – on a day when they could have been enjoying a day off – to demand that the 1980-era school spending cap be waived this year so schools all over AZ would not be forced to close or lay off teachers. Note: this same lawmaker voted “NO” to waiving the cap. Thankfully, better hearts and minds prevailed that day.

    If we want better quality schools, we must work to change how we treat teachers and prioritize education. To do that, we must vote for pro-public education candidates. It’s the students who ultimately suffer the consequences of our politics. Enough is enough!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here