Stress... Teaching... Indecision... Responsibility...

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

Melissa Girmscheid Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Teacher Leadership

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Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know…

I realize that The Clash is not singing this song about the life of a teacher but it’s an apt anthem for this time of year. The craze of December leads into the respite of winter break, and now we’re back into the thick of things. The spring brings the new legislative session, the 100th day of school, the flu, master schedule meetings, state testing, and most importantly, the contemplation.

All teachers have entered this phase of contemplation at least once in their careers. Education is fun and rewarding while simultaneously being difficult and frustrating. We work all year to bring the joy of learning to our students, then administer tests that can drain that joy away. We call our students “our kids,” becoming invested in their success so much that it hurts when circumstances impede it.

The best part of teaching.

The best part of teaching.

We’ve all had this moment when it just seems to be too much and stepping away from K-12 education looks like our best option. Many of us are stepping away, so much so that over 7,500 2019-2020 Arizona district and charter teaching positions remained unfilled as of December. Teachers are leaving mid-year as the stress becomes too much for them or declaring in January that they’ll be leaving in May.

This past year has been rough. I’m finding myself wondering, “Why am I still here?” more often than ever before. Oddly, this question never travels across my brain while I’m teaching. I love that part; that’s why I became a teacher. It’s the in-between times that I catch me unawares.

When my worth as a teacher is judged by my students’ standardized test scores… why am I still here?

When I’m called a socialist or a communist for advocating for my students… why am I still here?

When lockdown drills and active shooter training became the norm… why am I still here?

When substitute shortages became a thing meaning taking days off is more difficult… why am I still here?

When my paycheck has failed to keep pace with inflation… why am I still here?

Sometimes I don't really know

Sometimes I don’t really know

Critics of the Red for Ed movement have stated that if teachers don’t like it, they should leave. They are, in droves. The issue is, there’s no one to fill those empty positions. Districts have started reaching as far as the Philippines to fill empty positions while programs like the Arizona Teachers Academy aim to get more undergraduates to choose teaching as their career. What remains to be seen is if this will be enough to stem the tide, much less reverse the trend.

What will happen to the future of our state if we can’t find qualified teachers to educate our kids? When measures rank Arizona near the bottom for education, this can adversely affect our children’s futures. Having an education from Arizona should be something we can be proud of, but this is not the reality right now.

All this has me wondering, “Why am I here?” and, “Is it time to move on?” It may be. When the joy of teaching my students is not enough to reduce the stress of my job, it will be time. No teacher wants to teach next door to the person who has lost their spark. After all, their kids are our kids, too. We want them to have the very best education from people who care about them and their success.

Perhaps that’s why we’ve stood up to advocate for our kids. We’ve been using our outside voices for a while because we want them to have the very best preparation for life that they possibly can. All the reasons we have for wondering why we’re still here are the reasons we’ve raised our voices to let policymakers know that change is needed. After all, if we leave, chances are good that there isn’t anyone to replace us. We must continue to advocate for change so that the current teaching shortage can be reduced, or even eliminated.

Which leads me back to the wise words of The Clash:

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know…

Why are you still here?


Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

Comments 6

    1. Post
      Melissa Girmscheid

      I’ve talked to so many teachers who contemplate leaving, and many who have already. It’s not just about the pay, as many might think. We have a chance to fix these issues, and need to do so, otherwise there might be no one left in the classroom. As to me, my passion for teaching physics is still intact.

  1. Mike Vargas

    I could not agree more.. thank you for your insights and your honesty … considering you’ve already been shared 12 times … I’d say you hit the nail on the head …..

  2. Caitlin Corrigan

    These are the exact thoughts I have every year around this time. The reason I continue to stay in education is for my son, who will turn one next month. I want him to have a highly qualified teacher when he enters school in a few short years, so I feel strongly about advocating for our kids in Arizona!

  3. Elizabeth Schley

    In my 17th year of teaching, this has been my January. It’s such a heartbreaking thing because I love teaching, I just don’t love everything else about this job. This absolutely hit to the heart of what happens. Thank you.

  4. Beth Maloney

    This is not only one of my favorite songs, but it is also exactly the question I have been contemplating lately. I have made the difficult decision to leave the classroom for many of the reasons you listed. I hope to be able to make changes from a different area than inside the classroom. Maybe I’ll return someday, but I’m at peace with my choice to “go now.” 20 years is much longer than many teachers last!

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