So What Do We Do Now?

School PicA conversation is being held across dinner tables and in living rooms all over Maryland this fall, one that is being echoed all over our nation virtually every night. Hundreds of thousands of teachers are pondering what will they do if they can no longer teach? They are talking to spouses, lovers, and friends about the choices they will have to make at the end of this school year about how they teach, because they don’t know if they can take another year trying to educate the way they are doing it now with conditions deteriorating every year. They are talking about what school districts they will apply to because the school district they work for won’t or can’t support them or the students they way they need to be, and they know that the grass is not greener on the other side of the district fence, but maybe it might be less brown. They are talking about how if they decide to leave teaching all together, what could they possibly do that won’t seem trite and insignificant after shaping minds and helping change people’s lives on a daily basis. I know this because it’s a conversation I’ve had.

This year, the teachers in my school district have finally reached a breaking point. They have rallied around themselves and stood up against the bureaucracy that has seen them receive yet another year in which our salaries have not been fairly raised. I have been teaching a mere five years, and in those five years I have only received one full step increase, something that has been contractually promised to each teacher every year, yet has been held from us because the budget would not allow for it. This slight against my income pales in comparison to some of my coworkers, who have not seen more than two or three significant increases in their salaries in nearly a decade.  Many teachers I work with are losing nearly ten thousand dollars a year because they have not been given most of their promised step increases. Yet we stay. Or, at least we have.

Last year my county saw a drastic increase in open teacher positions; nearly seven hundred positions opened up across the county, yet we only added just under a hundred new teacher positions overall. That means nearly six hundred teachers left my county for “fairer” pastures. Perhaps they found new teaching jobs elsewhere, or perhaps they just had enough and found a new career. From what I’ve heard, the latter choice seems to become an increasingly popular option. It’s one I couldn’t fathom two years ago. This past year has changed my mind about that, and my soul breaks even admitting that.

But let me be clear, it’s not the money that has broken me. Not even a little bit. I’ve been poor, living below the poverty line, many times in my life. At times I’ve worked three jobs at once trying to make ends meet. In our youth, my wife and I gave plasma just to get enough gas money to get to a job in another state. I know what it means not to earn what I’m worth yet to be thankful for what I have. I’ve worked jobs from fast food franchises to working on medical claims exceeding a quarter of million dollars, helping customers and clients alike. Not once did I feel fulfilled as a person, like I was making a difference, before I started teaching. What has broken me is the appalling lack of respect, common and professional courtesy teachers receive from our government, from some parents, and from too many students.  Teachers are treated like scapegoats, like villains, like indentured servants by too, too many, yet we are expected to take it because it is our “calling.” That since we seek a higher purpose, we must be okay with a monk’s wages and working conditions, because we are “in it for the outcome and not the income.” This line of thinking has left us to be the whipping boy for so many, and I, for one, have had enough.

My health is suffering. My stress levels exacerbate conditions that I have and if things don’t change it will result in serious consequences. My time with my family is suffering. I am constantly giving up time with my children and wife because of work I need to do for school. I have missed games, first days of school, personal milestones of them growing up that I will never have again, and moments with my wife that will never be recaptured. My personal growth is suffering. I have all but stopped doing the things I love and enjoy for myself because I’m too busy with school. I have all but stopped writing, I don’t have the time; I’ve stopped my outdoor hobbies; I don’t have the energy and funds. All of these things, which is given to my school for free, I do of my own will and gladly, but to what end? To be treated like a lackey? To be demanded of more and more every year only to have more given to me to do? Sure, the education pendulum might swing back someday, but when? When I’ve become another embittered teacher. When my children have grown and gone. When my marriage has fallen apart. Too late. Too late.

I’ve continued, because I love my job. I will always love my job. Yet I cannot reconcile what I love with what it’s doing to me. Someone online recently likened staying in the teaching career to being in an abusive marriage; that you stay in it for the kids. Sometimes, however, you must leave for the kids as well. I can no longer sacrifice myself and my family for my job, for my other kids whom I love as well. But, then what do I do now? What can teachers do that will allow us to reach dozens and hundreds of young people? What can we do that will allow us to impact my community in such a positive way? What can we do that allows us to learn everyday and to work with such a variety of people and experiences? What can we do?

 

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12 thoughts on “So What Do We Do Now?

  1. You are an incredible and memorable teacher to say the least. It is interesting seeing the similarities in our writing as you were such a large part in shaping my own. I hope you find a calling or position that reciprocates your hard work with the benefits that you deserve. All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the kind words, Savannah. I absolutely loved having you in class; you were a brilliant student. And congratulations on the marriage! The shame of it is I found my calling. Best of luck to you too!

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  2. As somebody who has had you as a teacher, I want you to know that your sacrifices and your time were not worthless. I want you to know that you have changed my life in an amazing way, in a way that I will never forget. You have been and always will be my favorite teacher but even more than that – my favorite inspiration. You’re amazing Mr. Curet and I support you no matter what decision you make. Do not give up hope.

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  3. I just want to point out that Mr. Curet’s (ok, that sounds weird) former student used “you’re” properly. I think that is evidence of his teaching excellence!

    Seriously, though, great post, brother.

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  4. I wish everyone appreciated teachers such as you, Mr. Curet. I always knew of the things you’re talking about but I guess I never fully felt the impact until just now reading what you had to say. Just as the others have commented, I want you to know that what you have done as a teacher for me and for quite a few of my friends is incredible. To this day, whenever I bump into people from my graduating class, your name will come up when we talk about all our favorites from high school. I’m sorry that there are too many people that don’t take the time to appreciate what you and so many other wonderful teachers do for us. On behalf of me and practically everyone I know that had you as a teacher, thank you so much for what you have done. We support you 100% with whatever and wherever you go!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish everyone appreciated teachers such as you, Mr. Curet. I always knew of the things you’re talking about but I guess I never fully felt the impact until just now reading what you had to say. Just as the others have commented, I want you to know that what you have done as a teacher for me and for quite a few of my friends is incredible. To this day, whenever I bump into people from my graduating class, your name will come up when we talk about all our favorites from high school. I’m sorry that there are too many people that don’t take the time to appreciate what you and so many other wonderful teachers do for us. On behalf of me and practically everyone I know that had you as a teacher, thank you so much for what you have done. We support you 100% with whatever you do and wherever you go!

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  6. Coming from the man who made me want to teach, this is heartbreaking. Teacher’s don’t receive nearly as much respect as they deserve. I have witnessed it from kindergarten to college; a lack of respect from students, parents, and the board. Being a person who is currently working on their degree for Secondary English, I am also a person who thinks about changing majors every day. I have never learned to resent a field so much, with so little experience. The stories heard from other teachers I have come into contact with show a mental, social, and physical wear on themselves. When teachers ask me why I want to be a teacher, it’s usually asked with disdain. I’m just not used to having so man teachers not actually want to be teachers. Though I do not understand the full extent of what you’re going through, I want you to know that you are the best teacher I’ve ever met in my life. I have never met another person with so much passion and love for the students in their classroom. You were the one who sparked the need to teach in me, and I’m sure you’ve done it for other students as well. I hope whatever you do, you do it with a free spirit. You deserve happiness, and the chance at a peace of mind. On behalf of all of the classmates I personally know you’ve reached, but all of the other students who have sat in front of you, thank you. Whether we knew it or not, you helped us.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I know you’re struggle. I’m a former high school educator. I served in roles as teacher, assistant principal, principal over the past 15 years. I resigned last year because I could no longer sacrifice my values and principles to support a system that values kids, but only in numeric terms. Here is a link to an article I wrote in the Baltimore Sun which depicts our educational dilemma.
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-quality-teachers-20150328-story.html

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  8. In your class, I distinctly remember writing a journal entry on our favorite teacher or someone who made an impact on our life. Thank you for being that person for me! Your class was one of the very few in my high school career that I enjoyed going to. Your passion for teaching, love for students, and overall optimism for life is something I will always admire you for. You deserve the absolute best in return!

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  9. I am truly sorry that this is something so many teachers have to go through in this county. I have heard the same thing for the last couple of years from teachers that I’ve had at a few different schools. You all deserve so much better. When my fiance and I reminisce about high school, often your name comes up. I just want to thank you for being a great teacher and a wonderful influence on me. You were not only encouraging when it came to my studies, but when it came to just being a genuinely kind human being. You may not remember sticking up for me when I was being bullied, but I do. I just want to tell you that I appreciate you. Whatever decision about your career that you make, do so in confidence that things will, eventually, work out for the better.

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  10. Use your gift to educate and shape the minds of your own children and grandchildren. They are the ones you have an obligation to teach. What kind of example will you have been to them when they have their own families? A dad who put others before his own family’s needs? Our society has moved so far away from God’s design for families. Parents are the ones who have a mandate to teach their children as they talk and sit and as they walk. Think of what your children could become if you invested all that creative energy – and more importantly, time – on their education and emotional development. Your relationship with them will ripple through generations. This is written as an encouragement to you from one who spent 30 years in the classroom.

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