I did it! I finally escaped the toxic profession of teaching. I have been a teacher for 18 years, and I have loved most of my students throughout my career. I started my teaching career in Colorado in 2001, teaching middle school, and I still keep in touch with many of these students. I went on to teach high school and college, and I am friends with some of my adult former students today. They have changed my life for the better, just as they say I have changed theirs.
I’ve inspired future doctors, politicians, authors, teachers, auto mechanics, and psychologists. I have encouraged future hair stylists, EMTs, CNAs, and welders, and I am so proud of them all.
Then I realized a life-long dream of moving to the Pacific Northwest—Salem, Oregon. My husband and I planned our move very carefully. I obtained my Oregon state teaching license and secured a position in the public schools there, a position that sounded too good to be true. We sold our house, packed up our things, and moved 1500 miles away, so that I could finish out my teaching career in Salem.
I arrived with high hopes, but soon it became my worst nightmare—not Salem, the job. Salem is awesome! I planned my lessons, set up my classroom, went to my trainings, posted class websites, and welcomed my students to class. Then I was greeted with a level of chaos that I had never imagined could exist in a school. If you’ve seen movies like Dangerous Minds, then you have just a small idea of what an average day looked like in my classroom.
The first week I was hit in the head with a book, had shoes thrown at me, water bottles hit me, and my personal belongings destroyed. The students completely ignored any attempt at teaching I made, talked over me, refused to look at me even when I went up to them and tapped them on the shoulders, and if by some miracle I did get their attention, they would cuss me out or insult me.
The second day of school, I stayed three hours after work to call twenty-five parents. This had no effect on their behavior.
In the subsequent weeks, I wrote referrals and called parents, and begged for help. I was given a mentor, a behavioral specialist came in often, and I had various instructional aides. None of it mattered. The students escalated to mocking me for my age, my clothes, my looks, and my weight.They worked together to distract me with horseplay on one side of the room, while students on the other side of the room raided my desk and destroyed my personal things. They used Sharpies to destroy my family photos, poured glue in my printer, broke all my pens and pencils, poured ink on my desk and stole gum from my purse (I left my wallet in my car because I thought it was safer, and I carried my phone). They tore the covers off dozens of books, spit gum on the floor, in my chair, in the sink, and clogged the sink with paper towels and trash. They stole all my supplies and tore down my posters. They peeled the numbers off the desks and carved their names in to them.
The students were not much better even when the principal and behaviorist were in my room. I was personally injured twice by their behavior—once when I was knocked out of the way when students rushed the door without being dismissed, and once when a student had a meltdown in class and began screaming and shoved his desk and chair out of the way while yelling at an instructional aide. I had one student turn in a paper to me that said simply, “Fuck you, you bitch,” and another turned in a short story detailing how the main character strangled his teacher for yelling at him. I had security pick up a student who was angry when I confiscated his phone per school policy, and he cussed me out as he left, only to have the same student return less than five minutes later, still cussing me out and demanding his phone. He returned to my class twice more that day, cussing at me and demanding his phone, which incidentally, had been turned in to the office. I had no idea why he was not sent home or put in ISS, but allowed to go about his business as if nothing happened.
Now I know why the district pays so well. Most of the time, I felt as if I was working in a mental institutioninstead of a middle school. That’s right; the school I am referring to is a middle school. And granted, I had several sweet, smart, respectful, and wonderful students who wanted to learn as well. Unfortunately, they were forced to sit next to the ones acting like lunatics. These kids are not getting the education they deserve, and that breaks my heart. It’s not fair that they have to go to school with these other kids. I do realize that there is a reason why these kids act like this. They have their traumas or mental illnesses, their issues at home, and some of them just have no empathy whatsoever, but like Annie Demczak’s Facebook post about teaching being the most “toxic profession” points out, we wouldn’t expect anyone in any other profession to take this kind of abuse. I am forced to endure a level of bullying and harassment that would be illegal anywhere else.
I have taken it for nine weeks, and I am an emotional wreck, a shell of the person I was when I got here, and I decided I was not going to stick around and let them destroy me. I had PTSDjust thinking about going to the school, I couldn’t sleep at night, I had stomach issues, I cried all the time, and I was afraid to be alone with the students. After talking to many of the other teachers and hearing that they went through similar ordeals and periodically still get classes like these, I resigned my position. I had to.
This means I gave up any chance of having my loans forgiven after ten years of payments and exorbitant interest increases. It means that I gave up my husband’s and my free medical insurance, my state retirement, and because my skill-set is mostly centered around teaching, I will be making half of my income, and I will have no retirement except the partial retirement I’ll get from Colorado. Even if I get Social Security from whatever job I end up taking, it will be reduced by my Colorado retirement benefit. But it will still be worth not having to go back to that toxic and abusive environment.
So, as I start a new career at a fraction of the money I spent 18 years working up to, I worry about being able to ever retire. Then, I stop and realize that stress is one of the biggest factors in most illnesses and diseases. It won’t much matter if I have a retirement fund if I don’t live to retire.
It would just be really nice if 18 years of public service in one of the most toxic professions earned a little student loan forgiveness, but even though these programs supposedly exist, precious few ever get to take advantage of them with all of the rules and exclusions in fine print. I should have sued the district for ending my career, but instead I signed away that right just to be let out of my contract after two and half months. I was too traumatized to fight back. Maybe, instead, I can shed a little light on what is going on in our public school system. It’s clear that merely throwing money at the problem and hiring behaviorists doesn’t work.
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And there are numerous others, and although I do not believe more funding is as important as more parenting, more funding will at least allow for smaller classes and more help for the psychologically. and sometimes even the physically, abused teacher.–Christina Knowles