In 1998, I began my journey as an elementary school teacher under the guidance of my aunt and respected educator, Marva N. Collins. My mother was also a teacher, so I saw firsthand what it was like to be a passionate educator who is deeply committed to her students. Their dedication and passion for education is why I chose this profession. Seeing them devoting time and energy to their craft made me enter this profession with enthusiasm and excitement, although I don’t know what will happen in my next 25 years.
I wanted to be a teacher with a calming presence and positive attitude – someone who could help all students succeed. Unfortunately, becoming the teacher I wanted to be took more energy than I expected.
After more than 20 years in the classroom, supporting students facing serious challenges in their home lives, and trying to meet unrealistic expectations set by administrators, I finally reached a breaking point. I am now able to show my utmost compassion for the students and the school. Dedication to the field may not be enough to recover.
how it all started
When I took my first job as an English language arts teacher on the north side of St. Louis, I remember walking into the building as books and computers were being thrown out the third-floor windows. Next door was a half-house full of young people, including the fathers of the students I would be teaching. I remember thinking, “What in the world am I getting myself into?” Her four years in college, studying to become an educator, did not prepare her for what she encountered. I came to teach the masses, full of hope and determination, and realized how quickly I needed to change my focus.
When they entered the school building, they found a young man being detained for misbehaving. I asked if I could speak to a school official and she reluctantly agreed. When I asked his name and why he behaved the way he did, he immediately became defensive and claimed that I would soon be kicked out of the school like all the teachers before him.
I knew from watching my mother that you couldn’t put out a fire with fire, so I decided to take a gentler approach and despite his resistance, I offered support and I reminded him that I was there to better understand his problem. Eventually, he reveals that his teacher asked him to read a book. When I asked him if he knew how to read, he bowed his head in tears. His confession made me emotional, but I quickly put him back together and told him that if I had the chance, I would help him learn to read.
I could only imagine what it must be like for a 13-year-old boy to be in eighth grade and unable to read. His actions gave him an outlet for his anger, but all he needed was someone to listen and acknowledge his pain. This ended up being the beginning of a beautiful relationship. For years, Eric has watched people quit and move on without any consideration for his needs. I was the change and hope he needed, but I would soon learn that there were many others like him.
I remember being so excited about my role as a teacher. The creativity I had, the impact I would have, and the pure joy I got from knowing that one day I would be a change agent. But by the end of my fifth year as a teacher, that excitement changed. I was bombarded with harsh and unrealistic expectations and realized that one of the key elements to supporting students is supportive leadership, and my school lacked it. .
In fact, most of the administrators I worked with on a daily basis had no idea of the challenges students would be coming into the classroom with, much less what was going on in the classroom. Most administrators were more concerned with meeting academic standards and metrics than with providing comprehensive support for students who were unable to meet these standards due to personal challenges.
In my current role as School and Community Engagement Manager, I work with students and families facing a variety of challenges. They often face very serious circumstances, such as homelessness or experiencing community violence. It is not uncommon for the trauma to continue by the time students start school. Working this type of work makes it difficult to cut off communication, and the weight of my students’ personal struggles regularly follows me at night.
I knew I would have to endure challenges in the classroom without the support of administrators, but I didn’t give up, even though it negatively affected my mental health and well-being. I know that I am an effective teacher who can speak out against administrative issues and advocate for students who are experiencing marginalization that impacts their academic performance. After all, I have always been a rebel, following in the footsteps of my mother, who quit teaching because she refused to conform.
I was committed to meeting my students where they were. I chose to stay here and fight for them, but compassion comes at a price, and it almost always falls on teachers.
stay in the fight
To stay alive in this field, you have to have a certain level of mental strength and tenacity to endure. It’s difficult, and I, like many others, question whether our compassion for students is enough to fix the state of our education system and keep us in this profession. I am thinking.
I want to help my students, but I know there is only so much I can do before the weight of everything falls on me. I was and still am on the front lines fighting for what I believe our students and their families deserve, and this job is not for the faint of heart.