I am a teacher. I’ve been teaching for almost 25 years. It was my dream job. I’ve always loved it and now I don’t.
Inept administration, difficult students, priority-confused parents, and lack of support with increased expectations have worn me down. Now all I think about is retirement.
Kids are my life. Their smiles, wit, hugs, those “aha moments” they have… Their wonder. It is what I live for. How do I find my spark again?
Boy howdy. I’m the wrong guy to ask. Educators are persons who have answered the highest calling, whereas I am a guy who hasn’t emptied the dishwasher since Labor Day.
Besides, I’m in the same boat you’re in. I too have lost my spark.
Have you ever seen the 1953 Western “Shane” starring Alan Ladd? Remember the iconic closing scene wherein the hero (Shane) rides away while Little Joey is begging him to stay?
To freshen your memory, here’s a replay of that movie ending:
The horse stables. Nighttime. Shane saddles his mare. Little Joey is crying, asking Shane not to leave. Shane is Joey’s boyhood idol.
Shane, clad in a spectacular buckskin fringe jacket, tells the kid he’s leaving for good.
“Joey… You go home to your mother and your father, and grow up to be strong and straight.”
The boy sniffles. “Shane…”
Music swells for a dramatic goodbye while Shane steps into the stirrups and rides away into the Wyoming Territory.
The boy chases Shane, pleading with the enigmatic gunslinger not to leave. But Shane ignores the boy and rides off.
The final line of the movie comes from the weeping child who screams: “Shane! Shane, come back!”
That’s exactly what my year has been like.
Old Me climbed onto his horse and hightailed it into the Bighorns, while Current Me chased him and shouted, “Sean! Sean! Come back!”
Before COVID, I had a spark for writing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been a skillful writer, but I’ve lost something. Last year, for example, I would have never resorted to doing something as tacky as beginning a column with dialogue from a 1953 Paramount Pictures Western.
See how far I’ve fallen?
Quarantines. Civil discord. Cable news. The toilet paper crisis. I’ve gone flat.
Throughout the pandemic, my wife has often walked into my office to find me staring at the wall. She asks what’s wrong. Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself: “Shane. Shane, come back.”
So you’re not alone. These are rough times, and many people, not to mention educators, are going through what you’re experiencing.
After I received your letter this morning I decided to contact some friends who are teachers for some advice. I haven’t talked to these friends in years.
I was surprised to learn something staggering when I called. Out of the four teachers I called, three retired early this past year. These are middle aged people with families and bright futures. I couldn’t believe it.
So I took the liberty of asking what caused these teachers to quit. And without getting into gory details, they said the same things you said.
One teacher summed it all up by saying: “I’m just tired.”
My friend Marcia actually wept about the issue on the phone. Marcia has been a grade school teacher for almost 30 years and she says this previous year has tested her mettle.
Teachers are struggling right now. In a recent study done during the pandemic, research found that 60 percent of American educators admitted to disliking their job. Another 27 percent of teachers say they are planning to quit or retire early.
If this is true, this means that out of an approximate 4 million teachers in America, a cool million are planning to ride their horses into the sunset.
But I don’t mean to depress you. That’s not why I wrote this. In fact, I wrote this in hopes of doing the opposite.
Enter Miss Wanda.
Today I was put in touch with an elderly retired teacher named Wanda (age 88), by a mutual friend. Wanda had a brief story to tell:
“I’ve been teaching since I got out of college, I was a teenager when I started…
“But I reached a point where I’d had all I could take with the school politics, rebellious students, and pressure…”
So Wanda retired from teaching at age 50. It was a hard decision. There were lots of tears. She had been in education for a long time.
Not long thereafter, dozens of parents started begging Wanda for private tutoring. Even more students were contacting her for private instruction.
So Wanda started meeting students in their kitchens, or doing tutoring over the phone. Soon she was spending upwards of 35 hours per week tutoring. And do you know what?
She was doing it for free.
Wanda came out of retirement and resumed her old teaching position the same year since, in a way, she never really quit.
“I was a glutton is what I was,” Wanda says. “But I rediscovered my love of education. I taught for almost half a century altogether. Sure, it was hard, I won’t lie. Lotta people poo-poo teachers as though we’re superfluous, and it hurts. But we have to be strong.”
After I looked up “superfluous” in an unabridged dictionary, I asked if Wanda had any advice for struggling educators in today’s changing national climate. She did. And here are her words:
“Embrace whatever comes next in your life. If it’s retirement, do it. Give yourself a break. You’re not superhuman.
“No matter what, you’re always going to be helping kids, you’re a teacher, it’s in you, it’s just who you are. This world can kick you around until you’re a mess, but it can never take the Gift from you. Never.”
With all my heart, I hope this advice also applies to hack columnists.
Sean. Sean, come back.