The Dark Side of Teaching

I used to work with an awesome educator who was highly accomplished, beloved, and had spent 15+ years in the classroom. From what I saw, he was a rockstar teacher, somebody I looked up to as a mentor. He loved his students and they loved him back and he loved the school.

The funny thing was, he didn’t necessarily like his job. I asked why he didn’t just move positions or change schools. He told me that it meant he would have to start over at something he didn’t know as much about. People would look down on him as the new guy, rather than look up to him as the veteran. Fear of the unknown.

Then I pushed. So if you aren’t happy with what you are doing, why don’t you just find another career? His answer made sense. Because he has invested too much time and energy in the school. His skill set limits what he could do. Finally, he said something that I hear constantly from teachers as their primary reason for staying in education:

Because if I quit, it means I gave up on the kids, and they need me.

Just recently, I found out that he had some major medical issues caused by stress and anxiety that forced him to leave the classroom for an extended period of time. He was literally killing himself to do his job.

Is any job worth risking your life for?

The scary thing is, this stress, this anxiety caused by the almost insurmountable pressure, is common among teachers in every school I’ve worked in. Teachers don’t bring it up publicly. They don’t want to be shamed for not being able to handle something, or worse, they don’t want their principal to begin to question whether they are competent to do their job.

20% of teachers may leave the profession within 5 years. But what about the vast amounts of teachers who continue year after year, quietly unhappy and exhausted? Who become shells of themselves in their personal lives for the sake of their professional lives. Who develop physical ailments or begin medicating themselves to fight the anxiety or depression that comes from trying to be Superman or Superwoman every single day of the year.

It’s time we confront this dark side of teaching. Teachers need to find joy. They need to know that administration supports them in both great times and tough times. Teachers need to be healthy, both physically and mentally. Teachers need to know that we have each others backs, regardless of the outcome.

We as educators are a family. Is this how we treat our family?

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