Should I stay or should I go? This is the very question I’ve asked myself every year, with guilt, after successfully concluding each school year for the past seven years. The question is one that is not easy to answer because there are just too many reasons stemming from the question, “Why should I stay?”
The Whys of Teaching
I have thought about leaving because the trauma I face brings so much pain and stress, but I choose to stay because I can be a source of relief, comfort and healing to the child hurting greater and bearing burdens heavier than what I could ever carry.
I have thought about leaving because there is a lack of depth in the school community due to high turnover rates, but I choose to stay because the instability of our community as a result of crime, poverty, gentrification and teacher turnover leave families asking each year, “Are you leaving too?”
I have thought about leaving because students are drilled academically in the name of equity, deprived of individual freedom, expression and choice as a result of structure that ensures a “safe and orderly” environment, but I choose to stay because I can try to provide a holistic educational experience within the confines of my classroom.
I have thought about leaving because students are defined by the numbers and teachers are defined by the students who “did not make it”. You see, rather than being defined by the journey, we’re defined by the outcomes. But I choose to stay because someone has to celebrate their journey and every small milestone they achieve to get there.
I have thought about leaving because the culture of teaching is driven by fear, judgment and disrespect by those who have left the classroom and continue to stay out of the classroom, but I choose to stay because I have teammates who rely on each other to calm our anxiety, affirm our strengths and hard work as educators and lend a helping hand when things seem too much to handle.
I’m a new mom and I’m realizing that being a teacher is a lot like being a mother. It’s a hard calling that requires putting the needs of others ahead of your own while somehow taking care of yourself to stand, love and care for the life in front of you. And that is precisely the reason why so many teachers stay–life.
The eyes looking up to you in wonder and joy each day.
The mind that absorbs every detail to better understand that circumstances might be hard, but there are people in the world they can trust and rely on to be there to make things a little better in the moment.
And the heart that opens to accept, give and share the love they witnessed first-hand from their teachers unto their peers and strangers.
The life that stands before us will one day stand before others and future generations to shape a world that’s a bit more kind, loving, empathetic and accepting of the beauty diversity brings forth. So, the systemic reasons that make teachers want to leave are almost always outweighed by the value we hold on the lives that stand before us each day.
Andrea Suh has been teaching for seven years in Washington, DC as an early childhood educator. Her passion and career have been focused on providing comprehensive early childhood education to underprivileged students and families.