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Is Your Teaching Experience an Abusive Relationship?

I know the title is a heavy one, but it’s a thought I’ve had since I started in this profession.
I am in an abusive relationship with teaching.
I know this isn’t everyone’s story. I see teachers all over Instagram discussing the love and dedication they have for their schools. Their leadership is great. Their kids are great. Everything is just great.
Then, I look around my school and think “I need to go home” or “I don’t need this.” But for some reason, every year since 2014, I’ve gotten out of my bed and prayed for a better day, only to be met with chaotic school environments, disrespectful administration and colleagues, and children who are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
But somewhere, deep, deeeeeep down inside of me says, “Stay.” Something in me keeps saying, “Fight for this.” In the moments I’ve come home crying about the chaos at my school and the verbal and occasional physical abuse I’ve experienced, my mouth will say, “I Quit” as my heart says, “Stay.”
Then one day, it dawned on me. I’m in an abusive relationship. Am I the only one who feels this way?
I don’t use the word abuse lightly or use it to minimize or take away from the verbal and physical abuse that women and men experience every day in other relationships. I’m discussing this from a different point of view with similar traits involved.
My first two years of teaching were through the Teach for America program. Although they offer many avenues of support for their teachers, nothing can prepare you for what you experience in the classroom. I knew a few teachers who quit within the first few months, were harassed by their administration or had to take some form of anxiety medication to cope. But for some reason, THEY KEPT GOING BACK.
Our repeated teacher slogan is “It’s all about the kids.” This slogan we hold near and dear to our hearts can be heartbreaking. On the one hand, we know our kids need us. Outside of those school doors, the world is waiting to eat them alive. On the other hand, we take on this burden of saving our students while leaving ourselves hanging high and dry with nothing left at the end of a school day. The students, our colleagues, our administration, and our district use us up until there’s nothing left. We cry, we march, we go on strike, demanding change, but we all know at the end of the day, we’re going back because “It’s all about the kids.”
What is it inside of us that keeps us in places that don’t deserve us? What guilt continues to arise in us when we make the decision to leave one minute, and then change our minds the next? Is it the teacher shortages? Is it the “teacher calling” that people love to talk about? Is it a guilt where we feel we haven’t done enough or as much as the other teachers we see on social media or at professional developments?
“If we won $50 million dollars today, would you quit your job today? Click To Tweet
My husband always asks me this question when we start talking about leaving the profession. “If we won $50 million dollars today, would you quit your job today?” My answer has always been “No.” I know it sounds crazy, but something inside of me just can’t let go. Something in me feels the need to finish. Something in me doesn’t want to let the kids down, but I always think about what a colleague said to me when I first started teaching. I was feeling down. I was struggling to continue. She saw how much I was stressing myself out. She saw the burden I carried…and with six words, she helped to lighten the load:
You have to put yourself first. This train will keep moving with or without you. Whether you show up or not, it will keep moving. If you quit today, it would keep moving. If you died today, it would keep moving. The kids will still behave the same. The administration will still act the same. The district will still create unrealistic expectations for teachers and students. This train will keep moving.
Your students need you, but they need you happy, healthy, and whole. What good are you to them if you are broken internally? What good are you to ANYONE if you are broken internally?
Stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Stop giving more than what you have. Stop sacrificing yourself to make the world happy, ending up with nothing for yourself and your family at the end of the day.
In this moment, I want you to answer a question. Don’t take too long to answer it. Respond with the FIRST answer that comes to your mind. Once you have the answer, I challenge you to do something with it. I don’t know what options you have available to you at this time as an educator, but I do want you to know that you can always do something about your life and its current state. Whether it’s moving to another city, teaching at another school or in another county, changing grade levels, etc. You CAN do something about it, but I need you to commit to doing something about it before you read the question.
Are you in an abusive relationship with teaching?

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