After six grueling years teaching high school math to New York City’s most at-risk students, I’ve become jaded. And no, it’s not because of the kids. They were the most compelling reason against leaving. It’s just everything else.
When I first started teaching, I walked into the classroom absolutely on fire about everything. I was twenty-four years old and cocky: coming off a high from people telling me how impressed they were that I’d decided to forego a career in investment banking to pursue teaching. Like any first-year teacher, my life revolved around my profession: plan, create, assess, grade, adjust, repeat. I was an animal and it certainly didn’t hurt that I was coming from an industry where people averaged working over ninety hours a week.
For the next few years, I grew very comfortable being “Yo Mista” in the classroom. I’d had my share of run-ins with district/school politics and bureaucracy, but I still felt untouchable. I realized a lot of the “sweat the small stuff” bullshit floating around mainstream education was just that: bullshit. I enjoyed teaching the most when I was speaking off the cuff. Instances where my students got off-task provided excellent opportunities to teach in the moment and connect. Scripted dialogues were for actors and I certainly didn’t sign up to pretend.
After my third year, I decided to investigate what teaching at a charter school serving the same student demographic would be like. Despite my own personal reservations working at a charter school, it was a unique opportunity to be a founding teacher and work closely with the founding principal to set up school culture. The mission of the school was herculean: serve only high school students involved in the criminal justice system, child protective services, and transitional housing. It was rough. The days were long, the results less tangible, and the charter network less grounded in the realities of poverty. Still, a few of us persevered with some student successes. But it wasn’t enough to just teach well anymore.
Teachers don’t just teach. We make phone calls home. If someone doesn’t pick up, we call again. We connect with social workers during lunch to investigate student concerns. We enter detailed anecdotal notes about our students in classroom management systems. We write and adapt curricula to meet our own classroom’s needs. We grade. A lot. Then we synthesize all of the individual student achievement data to figure out where to move the class next. We research educational technologies most optimal for our students. Even the most tech-challenged teachers make genuine attempts to learn and incorporate technology in the classroom. We do a lot, because of our own passion for teaching or because of a fire lit under our asses by the nurturing of a good instructional coach.
It’s what is imposed upon teachers by those outside the profession that irks me.
Often, district and school-wide administrators sign us up for software, technology, and classroom management systems that we never asked for or needed. Sometimes, they do this without even trying the technology themselves. Other times, they adopt systems and technologies that don’t jive well with the mission or culture of the school, classroom, or teacher. I have a lot of frustrations with the education system in the United States of America, but this example of the complete and utter disrespect for my profession and expertise has finally gotten to me.
I’ve quit teaching (for now), but I’m not quitting teachers. In fact, as of today, I now work for a young educational technology company whose mission is to empower individual teachers. I’ve been informally consulting them for over two years now and I’ve decided it’s time to fully commit. I’ll be working directly with the CEO to help shape the application’s design and features. I want to connect teachers to other teachers who use the application to create a community of shared resources. I want teachers to promote the application with other teachers if they think it’s useful. I don’t want to sell in bulk to districts and networks without teacher advocacy and support for the product. I get that teachers are resistant to being told they have to use something.
If you think I’m selling out, maybe you’re right. Maybe not. But I’m not quitting teaching forever. I took this job with a goal in mind: help create something incredible for educators to compel me to come back into the classroom on my own terms. Of course, now that I’m out, I won’t be “Yo Mista” to my co-workers. I’m reviving the blog to stay grounded in my experience, but no one at work is going to call me that. And I’m honestly going to miss it.
So with that, my name is Abbas Manjee, and I hope to hear, learn, and work with you at Kiddom very soon.
Via Yo Mista!