A teacher retires early: ‘This year there simply was nothing more of me to give’

A teacher who took early retirement says:  "I am tapped out, done, finished, drained, and tired. I had to stop doing a job I loved for myself."
A teacher who took early retirement says: "I am tapped out, done, finished, drained, and tired. I had to stop doing a job I loved for myself."

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

Unrealistic demands and lack of empathy drives longtime educator from a job she loved

This piece by a metro Atlanta teacher who chose to take early retirement provides a fitting close to the challenges of 2020 and COVID-19.

When historians write about this pandemic, I think the consensus will be that we placed crazy demands on our schools and teachers.

Here’s to a better 2021 and saner education policies.

By Kris Hale

My last day as a classroom teacher was Nov. 20. I retired three years early because COVID-19 and the policies of the district I worked in for 27 years pushed me out.

Teaching, connecting, seeing kids learn, challenging students to think and grow was the joy of teaching for me. I learned to absorb, accept, and take on all the BS in education because I love working with students and peers, planning for instruction, seeing students learn, hearing their voices in a discussion, seeing the light bulb go off and a student have that “Aha” moment.

I love teaching.

While it always was a thankless job, I persevered, seeing myself as a survivor. But this year was different. This year there simply was nothing more of me to give. I am tapped out, done, finished, drained, and tired. I had to stop doing a job I loved for myself.

The system always wants more from teachers. Teaching is never enough. Even in the interview, teachers are asked, “What else can you do?” “What can you coach?” If you are a great teacher, the reward isn’t a raise, it’s more work. Teachers get thanks for a job well done by being asked to lead professional development or becoming a course team leader. And there is no stipend for this.

We are trusted with our country’s “most valuable resource,” its children and their learning, mental health, and physical safety. Teachers are expected to be everything for your kids. But you don’t trust us, even to make the right decisions when it comes to education.

It has always been hard to be a teacher, but this year is different. This year is simply not sustainable for some of us. For myself, it was impossible.

What we are being asked to do, at least in the district where I taught for nearly three decades, is insane. We are teaching simultaneously, meaning face-to-face and online at the same time. I had classes with more than 30 students.

The grading rules keep changing. The fundamental way we teach has changed. In addition to that, there are the new cleaning protocols that must take place between classes. But instead of understanding and supporting us on the district level, the administration intends to still evaluate us like they have for years. Where is our grace? Where is the support, compassion, and caring for us?

Over the years, I have attended countless meetings for students who require special accommodations, known as 504 plans, to succeed. We are expected to provide those accommodations and meet the needs of all students. But our district is not willing to accommodate us. We were told fear is not a reason for not returning to the classroom.

I have anxiety and depression. While I made accommodations for my students with anxiety and depression, this was not an option for me or my peers. Not only is there a lack of support for us at the district level, teachers have also been tasked with providing social and emotional support to our students via a purchased curriculum.

Longtime teacher Kris Hale decided to retire early due to the demands placed on teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Longtime teacher Kris Hale decided to retire early due to the demands placed on teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, our students are experiencing trauma, but so are many of us in front of the classroom. Some of our spouses have lost jobs, some of us have lost loved ones, and some of us are caring for sick family members. But we are supposed to suck it up and soldier on.

When teachers at my school “walked out” during lunch, on a virtual day, to express concerns with the move to face-to-face instruction and the change in the matrix, our superintendent called them “selfish.”

Parents told us if we didn’t like it, quit. Many of the parent comments were cruel. I was heartbroken, hurt, and angry. I have given so much of my life to this career and to the well-being of my students. To see myself and my peers dismissed like this was too much. It was time to leave this abusive relationship.

I realized that if I did not take care of myself, no one would. Yes, I am sad to leave a career I love, my school, students, co-workers, and friends. But I must care for myself and my family.

So, that is it. That is how my career in education concluded. It was not the ending I ever imagined.

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