Updated: Jul 30, 2021
In February 2021, I painstakingly quit my job as a high school math teacher. Last week, a reporter was requesting stories on teachers that had quit during the pandemic. This was my response:
Warning: classic "Hero's Journey" incoming.
It was the fall of 2019. After thousands of hours spent hustling as a private tutor, I had been recruited by a local LA private school to be an actual, full-time "stand in front of the classroom" math teacher. I was all nerves and excitement as I stepped in front of 12 teenagers staring confusedly and bleary-eyed at me for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was eager to learn and I was eager to teach. Little did I know, off in some small corner of the world, a microscopic virus was quietly incubating and patiently waiting to burst upon the world and change everything.
Flash forward to the beginning of 2020. Learning to be an effective teacher on the fly is hard, but I was finally getting the hang of it. I had found a good rhythm, developed an efficient classroom routine, and I loved bouncing around at the front of the class evangelizing on the thing I loved most: math. There were talks of a "novel coronavirus" discovered in China and worries that it might spread rapidly and turn into a global pandemic. Come March, despite repeated warnings and futile attempts to contain the virus, California became the first state in the nation to declare a "stay-at-home" order and the lockdown began. My fortitude as a teacher was about to be tested drastically.
The response from California schools was quite reactionary (i.e. it was a sh*t show). Nobody was prepared for a once in a century global pandemic, and schools desperately scrambled to migrate the student population online. The one bright spot of this mess was that indeed we were able to - albeit clumsily - transfer students online and continue the school year mostly uninterrupted. Even just 5 years ago, the web conferencing technology would not have been powerful enough to handle such an influx of people into the system, but we were able to do it.
Still there were many challenges. Everything I learned in my first 6 months of teaching, I now had to try to relearn in an online environment. It was tough to say the least. The teachers were thrown for a loop, the kids missed their friends and hated virtual learning, and most importantly the very technology that was enabling kids to continue learning online was the same technology that provided them endless distractions right at their fingertips. If you think trying to teach a bunch of teenagers y=mx+b is hard in a normal classroom setting, try getting them to learn math when they are sitting alone in their rooms and can just go watch a YouTube video or Snapchat their friends without consequence the moment they get bored. I tried desperately to keep my lessons engaging, but I could tell I was losing them. I felt powerless.
Despite the difficulties, I put my head down, gutted it out, and made it to the end of the school year. I thought the summer would provide some time for both myself and the school to regroup and come up with a much more solid plan for the next school year. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Just a couple months into the new school year, it was clear to me that I would not last long. I've quit a couple engineering jobs in the past because I can't stand sitting behind a desk all day. Now, one of the things I loved most about teaching - bouncing around in front of the classroom - had been taken away, and I was once again relegated to spending my days behind a desk.
Beyond just being stuck behind a desk, I also felt that everything I was teaching the kids was falling on deaf ears. The administration was pushing me to go easy on the kids given the circumstances, and while I certainly eased up some, I still believed that SOME sort of standard should be met, and this shouldn't just be a lost year. Still I got push back from the administration that I was giving out "too much homework". I guess 20-30 math problems per WEEK was just too much for some kids.
Eventually, it all became too much and started really negatively affecting my mental health. I was feeling the telltale signs of depression, and I loathed logging into my computer everyday to teach. I realized that this was not sustainable, and moreover, if I kept showing up depressed, aggravated, and ornery to my classes, I would be doing a great disservice to these kids and that was not fair to them.
So by January of 2021, I had informed my principal that I was putting in my resignation. After a brief panic on his part and attempts to guilt me into staying, we eventually agreed that I would stay on for as long as it took for the school to find a replacement. That seemed fair to me. After all, I didn't want to leave my students in the lurch with some random assortment of substitute teachers. I still cared about all of them very deeply and wanted to do right by them even though I was going through it. I mean they were going through it too, so it only seemed right.
Well two weeks and only three phone interviews later, I decided the administration was not moving fast enough for me, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I signed up for Indeed.com as an employer (without the school's knowledge mind you) and I started the hunt for my own replacement. It was kinda surreal interviewing people to replace myself. It created these unique phone interviews where the potential applicant would inquire why I was leaving the school mid-year, and I was able to just tell them very candidly everything that was going on. I don't think that happens very often in job interview proceedings.
Two weeks later, I found the perfect replacement. She had more teaching experience than I did, and she fit the culture at the school perfectly. And she really knew her math! I gracefully exited my teaching position after a mere 1.5 years on the job. I would be lying if I said I didn't shed a few tears as I said my final goodbyes to my classes. Even though I decided that classroom teaching was not for me, I was still an educator at heart, and I was still attached to all of my wonderful students.
Ever since my resignation, I have been spending a good amount of my time as a tutor again. I find the one-on-one interactions are more my speed. I have also thrown myself into building my online business which focuses on providing educational empowerment courses for kids. Think & Evolve was birthed from this pandemic experience! I write and generate content for my educational blog, and I even created my first program, Test Anxiety Knockout! It is a 30 day guided visualization program to help kids manage their anxiety on tests (and hopefully in life in general). I am so proud of my work, and I aim to continue to serve as many kids as I can through Think & Evolve's reach.
*End "Hero's Journey" tale*