Sometimes I ask myself why most educators who leave the classroom to work on their doctorates full time don’t go back into the classroom. I can only answer this question for myself, but I don’t think I’m that far from normal, so I am probably speaking for a number of folks.
I left the classroom because I live in a rural area void of large universities. I could not leave the elementary school at 3:45 (when our contract said we could officially leave) and make it to even the closest PhD program in time for evening classes. It was logistically impossible for me to teach and to get my doctorate (well, that’s also because I didn’t like any of the online PhD options).
I left the classroom because I had completed my entire master’s while working and new how exhausting it was. I wanted to focus on one thing.
I left the classroom because I wanted the doctorate more than I wanted the classroom at that time.
Now, I have days where I miss the classroom a lot. Still, I probably won’t be back to full-time K-12 teaching. Why?
Well, the work conditions, even in good districts, are horrible.
The teacher’s union that is supposed to be working for you creates a contract that by the standards in many other “professions” feels oppressive. Exact times to come to work, leave work, how to handle conflict, etc. You can’t schedule to have lunch with someone…it doesn’t fit in to your 25 minute lunch break.
At all times you are responsible for little people. When you walk down the hall during your lunch break and you see a student, you need to know why they’re in the hall. You escort them to the nurse, or the bathroom, or guidance, etc. You don’t have time to go to the bathroom. Sometimes (especially if you’re an art teacher and have to clean up 120 paint brushes in between classes), you don’t eat.
When you’re too sick to go to school, you go in even earlier than you normally would to write lesson plans. Your clients cannot go unattended. You are still responsible for them even if you’re not there!
For a first child like me, this is overwhelming. We feel responsible anyway. I don’t think I can go back to that. Not compared to university life.
Now I can leave my class unattended if I have to pee. I am in the classroom much less and doing outside of class work much more. I am able to teach well because I don’t teach as much. I can meet my students outside of class and get to know them in a way I couldn’t with hundreds and hundreds of students that cycled through the elementary art room.
Why am I writing this? I’m writing because since I have left the classroom my ideas about what should happen inside a classroom have changed significantly. Yet, I am not sure I will have a chance to put them into practice. Today I sent out some emails asking for leads to people in elementary art situations who are teaching using postmodernist curricula. I don’t know of ANY! Why? Maybe because all the people who support this type of curriculum are in higher ed and don’t return to the classroom. Maybe because the structure and conditions of K-12 teaching doesn’t really support this type of teaching. I don’t know, but I feel slightly guilty that I’m going to be training art teachers to teach in a way that I have not personally taught.