I am not quite sure how to write this. Perhaps a little background first.
For the four school years 2019-2022 I taught at a well-known Catholic high school where I was given complete freedom to teach as I saw fit. I was respected by the community. I looked forward to it being my final job as a teacher.
My wife wants to retire to a Continuing Care Retirement Community (also known as a life-care community) and as we explored possibilities, she got to pick where and in theory I got to pick when since I am almost 11 years older. We had agreed on Kendal Crosslands, about which I wrote here in September of 2022. Our target date was to be around Christmas or a little bit later this winter. That would mean I could not even teach one semester, so I gave notice at my school shortly after last Thanksgiving in order to give them as much time as possible to find my replacement, which they did.
In late February my wife informed me that for a variety of reasons she thought she wanted to work around another 6 months or perhaps a bit more. That meant I could teach another school year. It was tough going as I turned 77 last May to find a one year job in an independent school. One did offer me a job, but really could not pay sufficiently (I was willing to take a pay cut). I therefore explored going back to the school system (Prince George’s MD County Public Schools ( from which I had retired in 2012, but where I had returned for two years (2017-2019) before moving to the Catholic High School. They were delighted to get me back, and when I went to a hiring fair, I talked to six schools all of whom immediately offered me a job — in some cases the hiring administrator was someone with whom I had worked, in one case it was a former student of mine. I was well known and still respected in that system. I instead chose a school with a number of staff members with whom I had worked previously, one of whom had shared my CV with his principal, who had been impressed. When I met with the hiring administrator, the first words out of her mouth were “If I offer you a job will you accept it today?” I did. I chose to teach a 7th grade course called Deliberative Talk, which is a semester course during which students learn how to research a topic about which they care deeply then give a persuasive speech on it, then in the 2nd quarter learn how to work towards building peace. I felt it was a very good fit for my final year of teaching. And for what it is worth, the salary is 34K more than I was making at the Catholic High School.
It has not been a good fit
It is clear I have failed, and as a result, I feel broken. I do not expect that I will even finish the first semester with my current students.
I teach half of the 2nd graders this semester, and would teach the other half next semester. I have two classes of 28, one of 27, and two of 21. Only the one of 27 is a class that in reality I can teach. For all the rest, it is different levels of trying to manage basic behavior, and for one of the classes of 21, at progress report time halfway through this the first quarter, one student had an A, two had bare Ds, and the other 18 were failing. The mean grade in the class was 42%. And that was even having given them three class periods to make up missing work.
In every class I have students who care, some of whom even call me their favorite teacher. My wife has spent a day with my classes, with me giving students about ½ the class to ask her questions. She noted that there good kids in every class, but acknowledged that in most there were problem kids as well.They are very aware that I might leave because of the behavior I am encountering. Sometimes the only way I can get them to listen is to have to raise my voice, but doing that raises my blood pressure, which is a health risk for me. They note that — I have even told them about my history of stroke. I have not told them that if I even have a mini-stroke (a TIA) I would not under Virginia law be able to drive until I got medical clearance and if I had a real stroke it would be 30 days, which would mean I would have no way of getting to the school, which is 22 miles from my home.
We are a one-to-one school: that means each student is issued a Chromebook, which they are supposed to bring with them fully charged. Some don’t charge at home. Some have lost chargers and don’t tell anyone. Far too many use them to play games instead of doing academic work.
They are not supposed to have their phones on during the day, but most do. If I strictly enforced class and school rules on this and other issues (like not having hooded sweatshirts on or with them during most of the school day) I would be spending more than 20 minutes out of a 53 minute period dealing with such issues, because too many of them will argue about everything, If I try to verbally correct a misbehavior many will immediately point at other students rather than acknowledge their own behavior/
It is not that I am not supported by the school. I have had administrators in my room reading kids the riot act. One day this past week 3 6th grade teachers, who were free that period and who taught these kids last year, came into my worst behaved class andwere very tough on them. They came in because they could hear the disorder. I have had the head of security bluntly warn two classes, as it happens the two smallest, that if I ask him to remove a student because it is any kind of safety issue - including my health - the school will move to exclude them from school and transfer them to an alternative middle school where there was a stabbing last week.
That others have to come in to try to help restore order is to me a sign that I am failing, even though I know I am NOT the only teacher having major problems. The administrator for my grade has told the entire 7th grade that when she hired me she had multiple principals come up to her and tell her if for any reason she did not want to keep me they wanted me. She has also told them that she is fed up with their behavior, to the point that she is seriously considering looking for another job. But with too many of the kids it does not seem to make a difference,
I have slowly been turning the behavior of some kids around, but I am exhaustedand totally trained before the day is done.
I have come close to just walking out twice. My principal knows that I will not stay the entire year, but I had hoped to stay to the end of first semester. Now as I head into the first of two 4-day instructional weeks (with teachers working all 5) I am not even sure if I will get through one more day. In one class on Friday, I took off my id and started to pack up my Keurig and one of the problem kids screamed out to the others to shut up, couldn't they see I was packing up to leave? That settled them for a bit.
When I got home on Friday, after having to make several stops along the way, it was after 5 and I had st9pped teaching before instructional time had ended at 3:30. I took my blood pressure. It was 148/96. That means it was probably dangerously high when I was most stressed out. But here[s the problem - if I just allow the disorder to continue, it disrupts the adjacent classes, and the kids who want to learn shut down, and not just for that period.
I have taught in difficult situations before. I spent 4 months teaching in a private high school in DC with emotionally disturbed kids, some of whom traveled from class to class wity a behavior management aide. I taught for a few months (until my wife got sick) in a non-profit charter middle school in DC on the border between Wards 7 & 8,where 95% of the kids were on free and reduced eals so given normal absenceswe simly fed everyone free breakfast and lunch. Many of the kids had been affected by eating paints chips with led based paint in private rental housing which had not been remediated. And yet the behavior in both of those setting was not to my mind as egregious as what I am experiencingl. And I have told you less than half of the issues we face.
I have started to look for other employment. There may be a private school willing to hire me as a long term sub for a few months, or perhaps a private school will have an unexpected vacancy and be willing to hire a septuagenarian for the rest of the school year. I will have decent references from my current school and superb references from my last. But both of those scenarios are somewhat of longshots, and I know. In reality, I am probably in the last 3 weeks of my almost 3 decade teaching career. For it to end like this is shattering.
I can make some money doing other things, so I do not think our plans are in serious jeopardy. But it hurts in many ways to go out like this.
I know I can still be a very good teacher, in the right setting. But my current school is not the right setting. I made a very big mistake in coming there, even though I do NOT dislike ANY of the kids I currently teach. I feel as if I am failing them, clearly by leaving, but even if I stayed and could not change the dynamics of my classroom.
I do not feel any peace, even as I know that leaving is almost certainly the only sane things for me to do. That is why I feel broken.