“I’m done teaching.” My wife looked at me as if I were crazy and told me to think about it over the summer. My best friend asked, “What are the kids going to do?” My sorority sister told me to go to another school and tried to convince me that I wasn’t ready to leave teaching. But I am. I am done. My last day is May 31. Just two years ago, I was so hopeful and enthusiastic about this career. Now it is now killing me.
My school, Jennings Middle in Seffner, is a Title I school, and for those who do not know what that means, think of Joe Clark in Lean On Me. My school is a made up of students who come from difficult backgrounds and a good number of teachers who don’t really want to teach black or brown kids. I have had kids come out to me, talk to me about suicide attempts and pregnancy, just to name a few. My kids know I care deeply about them, but they also know not to play me. This has given me favor with the students and the school administration.
We have fights at my school. I’ve had to break up many of them myself because our school is so short-staffed. In my hall alone, there have been fights, pulled fire alarms and significant destruction to property. There are students having sex in the bathroom and using drugs on campus. Remember, this is a middle school.
My school has little to no support from the district administration. Many people who make the decisions about my school have never stepped foot on our campus or been with our students for even a day. Those who are on the campus, it seems to me, are counting down until the last bell. Teachers are pulling out of the parking lot even before all the school buses are boarded. When a small group of teachers, myself included, joined our voices together the school district pacified our concerns by sending new administrative staff to try to correct the core issues at our school. This happened with fewer than 45 days of the school year remaining. This change has come too late.
Even with all of this, I have been rated highly effective for the two years I have been teaching (business technology and coding) — a rare occurrence — and I have been given leadership opportunities within the district. My kids call me “mom” or their “favorite teacher.” Yet, this is not enough to keep me teaching. Not only am I mentally and physically tired, but I am now scared to go to work.
Not long ago, a student threw a wrench through the classroom window next to mine. Recently we were on a modified lockdown, which caused me to message my wife, scared out of my mind, because I had no idea what was occurring. This was the moment that solidified my decision to give up teaching. The risk to my life and mental health outweighs the reward of teaching kids. These issues are not unique to my school but are rampant throughout the Achievement Schools (Title I) within the Hillsborough School District.
Our Florida Legislature is more concerned with arming teachers and protecting the right to bear arms than protecting students and dealing with the foundational issues that are contributing to why I and so many other gifted teachers are leaving the profession.
What might help? We need enough support and better conditions so that qualified teachers are not afraid to work in Title I environments. Parents need to be invested in their child’s education. (I only had one parent come to see me during conference night.) And we need to have some tough conversations in public because real change won’t happen as long as we hide the real problems and keep things private.
Just to survive teaching at my school, I’ve had to become someone I don’t like. I have become short-tempered, authoritative, controlling and hardened, and it is been spilling over into my personal life. I don’t like the person I am becoming and it is affecting my mental and physical health. The other day a colleague and I were talking about how we are so drained that our respective partners only get scraps of us, and that’s not fair. When I step back and take all of this in, my decision is crystal clear. Leaving the classroom is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. It is one, quite frankly, I wrestle with because of the kids but I know it is the right decision. I am still committed to children but that commitment will be expressed outside the classroom.
Bianca Goolsby is leaving the classroom but will continue to speak on issues affecting Title I schools in Florida. She also partners with CEOs and executives to grow their personal and professional brands.