Many teachers didn’t return to the classroom this year. I am one of them.
It wasn’t an easy decision for me not to return to teaching this year. Many teachers who left the field of education completely had 5 years or more of experience. Many teachers said that it simply wasn’t sustainable for them anymore.
The sustainability of a teacher includes physical, emotional, mental, and yes, financial wellness. It’s too much pressure and stress to simply want to teach children and then still not be able to take care of your own family.
Teachers truly called to teach and work with children in educational settings aren’t leaving because the kids are “bad” or the pay is poor. Opting out of not returning to the classroom for a lot of teachers is a stand against succumbing to the institutional racism and hostile environment work that has grown after the death of George Floyd.
We’re already penalized for being Black or labeled as different; now we’re being penalized for teaching true, historical facts. It isn’t easy for teachers who are vocal and unafraid to call out systemic racism in public education while remaining a classroom teachers.
As a fellow of the American Association of Educators (AAE), I’ve been able to not only learn research and apply best practices we’re learning but also share my experiences with other educators. We’re putting equity into action … actions that quite honestly aren't always looked on favorably by schools and school districts. Standing for equity, especially for children of color is difficult, especially for Black male educators. It literally can cost us our jobs.
I know firsthand the sacrifice that it takes for true abolitionist teachers fighting for the advancement of colored people in public schools. This is why during the first two years of the pandemic, so many public school systems were bringing on equity director positions and adopting books centered on equity while simultaneously suspending and penalizing teachers for teaching and speaking on behalf of students who weren’t receiving equitable educational resources.
It’s hard for teachers to return to classrooms each year when we claim education is the passport to freedom, but in reality, poor education is the gateway to poverty in America.
Our society advances censorship policies in many companies, organizations, and yes, school systems. These policies restrict and harshly penalize educators for actually doing true equity work. Some policies ban and prevent educators from participating or being involved in social justice campaigns, protests, marches, rallies, and any forms of advocacy including town halls, podcasts, newsletters, blogs, radio shows, and even reality TV.
For many educators, being silenced about social justice issues, equity, and what’s happening in the world just simply doesn’t cut it anymore. If public schools aren’t safe spaces for teachers to discuss racism and its real effects on people of color, then in some regard, we’re asking teachers to sign up to participate in a facade.
For many educators who believe public schools can’t be safe spaces for all children until the system enforces antiracist policies to protect students and teachers, returning to the classroom in those spaces just simply isn’t an option any longer.
Charter and other non-traditional schools can be safe havens for some abolitionist teachers but some have found difficult situations in those schools, too. Teachers aren’t returning to classrooms because more of us are finally seeing our worth and finding other ways to do teaching and learning with students on our own terms.