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Why Do You Stay?

Leah Clark Life in the Classroom

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Sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. That’s what I woke up to Tuesday morning when I picked up my nine-month-old son, Brooks. I’ve been dreading this day since he was born. So far, we’ve dodged the cold bug, but I knew this day would come. And Tuesday just happened to be our unlucky day. 

He wanted his mama to snuggle and cuddle him. Unfortunately, his mama had to hand him over to his grandma, Mimi, and head off to work. I cried the entire drive that morning.

I just couldn’t justify being away from my 150 students because the day before I attended a professional development workshop off-campus and didn’t want my students subjected to another substitute teacher; furthermore, I don’t have the time to take since I was on maternity leave last year. So, I trusted my mom would cuddle and spoil my sniffling little man.

Later that day, I received information that several events my student council kids had planned would need to be drastically changed after several weeks of planning and preparation. Cue the tears along with anger and frustration. Thank goodness I was at home for this emotional meltdown. 

As I placed Brooks into the tub, I started to think about why I work so hard for so little pay and so much stress. And it donned on me as a bright light flicks on in a dark room. This is why so many teachers leave the profession.

We know Arizona faces a major teacher shortage in classrooms across the state, nearly 2,000 to be exact. Many studies cite a lack of pay and preparation for the students we teach as reasons why so many teachers leave. But I think they are missing a major reality: staying at home with your kids is appealing after a day like Tuesday. 

I am really lucky I have Mimi several days a week and a nanny to pick up a couple of days to watch Brooks. But I know he is going to need daycare soon. But yikes! The cost of daycare is shocking. It’s nearly half of my take-home pay. It’s really difficult spending that much for someone else to watch my kid so I can teach other kids. 

Next, the stress of planning, grading, calling parents, attending staff meetings, IEPS, 504s, school events, professional development workshops, let alone teaching in the classroom makes this more than a 40-hour workweek for many teachers, including myself. 

Add grocery shopping, laundry, house chores, family events, cooking, packing lunches, and maybe sitting on the floor to read a story or two before bedtime makes balancing home and work seems nearly impossible. 

I was chatting with two ladies recently, and I mentioned that I was a teacher. Both women said they taught first grade for seven years but left when they had kids. It was simply easier and more economical to stay home even though they loved teaching. 

I am not writing this post because I want my readers to feel sorry for me. I am writing this post because we need programs that promote teacher retention. We need quality childcare that doesn’t cost an arm and leg. We need teacher pay that reflects the impact positive teachers have on society and the respect our profession deserves. We need to address this issue openly and honestly so we can keep highly qualified and experienced teachers in the classroom while adapting our infrastructure to meet their needs.

I don’t plan to leave teaching anytime soon. However, Tuesday made me stop and think about the stress many working parents experience in every profession. I am beyond lucky to have 150 kids remind me why I stay year after year. My students make low pay and high stress worth it. They remind me that one day Brooks will be sitting in a classroom, and I hope his teacher isn’t thinking of leaving but rather thinking of how he or she can push my son to be the best human being he can be. 

 Why do you stay? 

 

 

Leah Clark

Phoenix, Arizona

I joined the teaching profession after spending several years in luxury retail. While the free clothes and handbags were definite job perks, I felt burned out and tired of long hours, weekends and holidays. So, I went back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I love my job!
My teaching philosophy is simple: Do what’s best for kids. While it’s not eloquent, this humble phrase directs every decision I make about teaching and students. As a Language Arts teacher at a central Phoenix high school, it’s my honor and passion to create opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, create and connect with one another and the world around them.
When I am not grading a stack of essays, planning a new lesson, or chaperoning a school dance, I love riding my yellow Huffy bicycle around town, sampling a new restaurant, and traveling to Flagstaff with my husband.

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Comments 8

  1. Randi Fielding

    Hi Leah,
    Your post is so honest! The challenges of the teaching profession are real! I’ve been there with sick kids, lack of energy, frustration, and unbelievable stress. It is not easy to keep coming back when all the struggles seem to happen all at the same time. But these are some of the reasons I stay:

    1. The knowledge that “this too shall pass.” I have honestly survived some rough years. I know I can do it again–and be stronger because of it.

    2. The knowledge that a break is just around the corner. Honestly, with all the federal holidays in addition to fall, winter, spring and summer breaks. I know I can make it until the next one.

    3. I happen to love Arizona’s kids. I know I’m not a perfect teacher, but my students know they’ve got me and I’ve got their back.

    Thank you for this super honest look at the real-life challenges teachers face every day.

  2. Rachel Perugini

    As a non-married teacher without kids, I can’t imagine trying to survive on a teacher’s salary while also supporting a family. My boyfriend and I don’t want kids in the future, so I won’t have to choose between having a family and my career- but really, no one should have to make this choice.

  3. Elizabeth Schley

    Hi Leah,

    This post made me cry. I am never overwhelmed when I am teaching. It truly is all the other stuff we have to do. It’s the mom stuff too. And then I try so hard to find time for my spouse and just for me, but it’s so draining.

    To be quite honest, I schedule a day off each quarter just for myself. I do it with enough time that I can plan and reschedule anything else that comes up. This has been my saving grace. After 17 years in the classroom, I know the weeks that it will get hard and try to plan accordingly. I don’t use the day to run errands or do housework. I use the days to take care of myself.

    Thank you for the honest post!

    Liz

  4. Jess Ledbetter

    I totally feel for you, Leah! And I have absolutely been there. As a mom, you are hard-wired not to leave your kids. Every working mom struggles with that. But as a teacher, it can be incredibly difficult to get time off for the last-minute care that little kids need. In my house, my husband often has to take the last-minute day off or drop everything to go pick up our kid(s) for midday illness when they are at daycare. It causes him so much stress which causes me so much stress. I think you hit the nail on the head saying that these are certainly reasons why women leave the profession once they have kids. Personally, I think one of the best improvements we could make in working conditions would be to have subs on salary at assigned schools to ease the burden of trying to find a “good” sub for days off. In my current teaching position, we struggle to find subs and we don’t get enough sub days for our school either. At the end of each month when we run out, we often have to decide whether to borrow days from the next month or split classes. These stresses for teachers aren’t necessarily measurable, but I think they are HUGE. At least, they are for me in my season of life right now with two kids under 5. As Randi said above, it does get better. (It was hardest when they were under one.)

  5. James King

    Leah,

    You are such a strong and dedicated warrior for our students and our community! We appreciate you every day.

    Maybe we don’t tell you enough, but we literally talk about it at our lunch table: Leah works SO hard, and we all could never do all that she does.

    I get flustered with work sometimes and then I remember how dedicated you are and I get a second wind. Thanks for being a huge part of our team at ‘slope!

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