When I separated from the military in the summer of 2022 I promised myself three things: 1) I would do whatever it took to leave that toxic environment (don’t get me wrong though, I have great friends and great memories with those friends and coworkers, but the overall environment was not for me, 2) I would never allow myself to stay in an environment that deteriorated my mental and physical wellbeing, and 3) I would never work for the government again.
My last job with the Coast Guard was teaching at the Coast Guard Academy and I have a bachelor’s degree that emphasizes math and science, so I thought assisting with the teacher shortage while I got my masters on the side was a good idea.
The school I worked for specialized in educating students who had emotional behavioral disorders. This made me nervous to begin working because it was a new type of teaching, and the students would be much different from what I was used to. Before the school year began, I was told stories about the student’s behavior, and how they could go into crisis if their past traumas were triggered and this could turn tumultuous in the classroom (such as throwing chairs/desks, getting verbally aggressive, shutting down, becoming physical). Part of me didn’t believe that I was good enough or qualified enough to teach these students and would therefore let them down somehow, and the other part of me believed that I wouldn’t be able to help them when they were in crisis.
However, after I met the students and after getting to know them a bit, I truly loved being able to talk with them and interact with them every day. If I could have a job that allowed me to help them emotionally and behaviorally then that would’ve been great, because unfortunately, once teaching became involved, some of the students would get frustrated easily and/or go into crisis.
Most of the students I taught came from difficult backgrounds and family lives with heartbreaking traumas. These traumas, as well as their psychological disorders, made it difficult for the students to get the foundational education they needed at an early age. By the time I saw them (middle school and high school), most of them had the educational knowledge of someone in elementary school. I taught math which was one of their least favorite subjects (if we are being honest, whose favorite subject is math anyway?), and I learned to overcome their dislike of multiplication tables by turning learning into a sport. We played math jeopardy and games that taught them basic math skills while building camaraderie.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. In each classroom, there was a teacher and a paraprofessional. The teachers had to rotate classrooms in order to minimize student interactions with each other (some students were court-ordered to stay away from each other, others would cause fights, and if students were allowed to rotate rooms, then some would elope – leave class without permission – for the rest of the day and not return) so the paraprofessional remained in the classroom with the students all day. School staff carried radios on them to radio for assistance when needed, for example, if students became aggressive, began destroying classrooms, or fighting with each other (yes, this was a daily occurrence in multiple rooms).
Most of these students have been dealt the toughest hand life can give someone, and while that’s not an excuse for certain behaviors, it should sure as hell be a reason for empathy and a starting point to try and understand where they are coming from and why they act a certain way. The students’ behaviors are a reaction to their traumas, a defense mechanism instilled in them to keep them safe. While most of them know the difference between right and wrong, they can sometimes get caught up in the gray. For this reason, I want to emphasize the students were NEVER one of the reasons why I left teaching. If anything, the students are the reason why I wanted to stay. I made genuine connections with a lot of those students, and what I found was that a lot of them yearned for stability, safety, and love. The school I worked at was a placement school for students with emotional behavioral disorders and I believe that as a society we need to be doing more for these students. Somewhat ironically, one of the reasons why I left teaching was because I saw how the school systems were marginalizing these types of students and not providing enough resources for them to receive the education and support that they deserved. My hands were tied with what I could do, and I wanted to provide the students with more than what I could offer, but unfortunately, the school district did not provide funding, support, or resources to help the teachers.
Full disclosure, I taught for Florida Public Schools for 8 months before I had to step down.
Here are the reasons why I resigned:
1. Restrictive Teaching
The Florida Education system is going through a tumultuous time. Books are being banned, history lessons are being restricted, and classroom rhetoric is being enforced. The history teacher at our school couldn’t talk about how slavery was wrong, but we had to have a Victims of Communist Day…what the fuck is up with that? This wasn’t just specific to my school though, this is a Florida-wide thing. The Florida government told schools to remove books from the libraries that were on the banned list and now they are mandating that every book in the classroom is listed on a webpage for parents to view in case they want to dispute what’s being shared. DeSantis is afraid that the education system is being too “woke” with what is being taught in schools, and now the pendulum has swung to something that feels like was written in the book 1984.
2. No Support
It shouldn’t be a surprise that school systems everywhere are experiencing a teacher shortage. I knew about this going into my teaching job, but what I wasn’t ready for was the lack of support from County and District Offices. The school I worked for was severely understaffed for the student population that we served. Crises would occur in multiple rooms many times throughout the day and there were not enough people to respond to the situation. This meant that if a student became violent, the teacher and paraprofessional were responsible for attempting to de-escalate or maintain the situation. Granted we had some training on how to deal with these situations, we were just two people in a room of students who would try to elope, destroy classroom materials, throw desks and chairs, and threaten your safety… daily. When most of your job consists of putting out small and large fires continuously, it becomes absolutely exhausting. I will say, the administration I had at this school was amazing. I always felt supported and seen by our principals, but even then, they were only three people. The fact that the school district knew what was happening at our school and did nothing to help infuriated me.
I also learned that schools in the district would hold onto students who exhibited emotional behavior disorders who were labeled as ESE (Exceptional Student Education – children with disabilities who need tailored and unique educational plans to progress in school) until the springtime. This is because their school would receive funding for these types of students and once that funding came through, those schools would then send those students to the school I worked at. This meant that not only did my school NOT receive funding for these students, but we were also getting an influx of students toward the end of the year and did not have enough resources to support them. This type of greed within the school districts also did not sit well with me. It felt like they were using children as pawns in their own schemes.
3. Teacher Treatment
My parents were both teachers and have taught in Florida for the past 25+ years. I understood that the job would be tiring but fulfilling. However, I was not prepared for the amount of work, the time and money dedicated outside of the classroom, and the politics that would be involved with being a teacher.
The school systems expect teachers to have lesson plans for every single lesson they teach, in every single class they teach, and for every single subject that they teach. These lesson plans detail what subject will be taught, the learning objectives, how those objectives will be implemented, and how to gauge whether the students understand the material. However, these lesson plans need to be tailored for the students, and then, if the students don’t understand, the teacher needs to tailor the lesson plans some more. What ends up happening is the teacher essentially creates plans for each student in the classroom so that they can reach everyone. On top of this, teachers barely receive any money to provide resources in their classrooms. Most of the materials you see in a classroom were bought by the teacher.
Teachers are given an unreasonable amount of work to submit, they are given tasks to perform outside of their contracted work (such as providing safety for the students, providing work hours outside of the workday to complete tasks and trainings set forth by the County, and they are expected to use their own money to buy resources for the classroom because the government will not provide additional funding to schools).
The icing on the cake is that teachers give so much of themselves, so much of their time, love, and finances, and yet they get paid an unlivable wage. There are some teachers out there making less than $50k to provide an education to the future of America. People like to say that teaching is easy and that anyone can do it. To that I’d say, you try teaching a room full of children who may or may not want to learn and who are all on different intellectual levels, try to design and implement lesson plans that incorporate various educational theories, try dealing with parents who aren’t involved with their child’s education or life for that matter yet find reasons to yell at you for trying to do your job, try dealing with an education system that’s not setting our children up for success and you tell me if it’s so easy.
Don’t even get me started on the people who like to say that teachers get paid holidays. They are given the option to get paid for 10 or 12 months, and it doesn’t matter which way you slice it, either way, the pay isn’t enough for the shit they have to put up with.
When the hurricanes came through Florida this past year some teachers were stranded and couldn’t leave their homes due to flooding in certain areas. Instead of understanding there was a national disaster, the school Districts told these stranded teachers they’d have to use sick days to cover for the time they were missing. I don’t want to be a part of a system like that.
In the end, I had to keep the promises I made to myself. My mental health was rapidly deteriorating which led to a decline in my physical health. While I loved the teachers/administrators and enjoyed making a difference in my students’ lives, I couldn’t continuously jeopardize my health and well-being.
Two incidents solidified my eventual departure from teaching. The first incident occurred in a classroom with five students – each of them had gone into crisis, which required additional staff to be present in the room. By the end of the period, there were about eight staff members in the room trying to de-escalate the growing tension, and unfortunately, one of the behavioral support members was hit. The second incident happened when a student confided in me about their weapon activities. The student shared that they had guns at home and proceeded to explain what they would do if they brought the weapons to school. I had to report this information to the administration and the student was suspended. However, it’s difficult to remain anonymous in these situations, and since it is easy for students to sneak things onto campus, my paranoia increased when the student returned from their suspension.
These two incidents, among the numerous that I witnessed and heard about from teachers at other schools, illustrate the glaring safety concerns in the education system. There is a lack of funding, resources, and training opportunities to keep school employees as well as students safe.
Because of all this, I had to put my mental and physical safety first. This was the final reason why I left teaching.
I knew that in order to preserve my mental, emotional, and physical well-being and safety, I had to uphold the promises I made to myself when separating from the military. For these reasons, I had to leave teaching in the Florida Public School system.