It's Time to Stop the Teacher Guilt

young business man sitting at messy desk, head in hand, depressed, overworked
young business man sitting at messy desk, head in hand, depressed, overworked

After grabbing paperwork and checking out a school vehicle, my conference period was nearing an end. My last stop was the bank. Approaching the counter, I hurriedly pulled out the school check and my driver's license.

"I guess you're taking your students to another competition. Are you gone pretty much every weekend?" the teller asked.

"Yes, we always seem to be doing something." I smiled.

"Well, at least you get summers off. Must be nice."

My smile dropped. Although technically accurate, this teacher myth seems to creep into only conversations with those outside of education. But this time, it carried an extra sting coming from a bank employee. I mean, banks would likely close on the president's dog's birthday if it were printed on the calendar.

While I don't seek to pit teachers against tellers, I do find this interaction troubling. Eight in 10 teachers feel their profession is undervalued. In 2009, the teacher turnover rate sat at roughly 9 percent. By 2014, that number increased to 20 percent. It's the result of expecting more of teachers, yet appreciating them less.

Don't believe me? Consider the training schedule I sat through this summer: anti-bullying, social media awareness, suicide prevention, CPR, and food allergy education. Given the current climate surrounding gun violence, I fully expect a state requirement mandating formal training on how to respond to an active shooter on campus. These are thoughts few professionals in other fields will ever entertain.

On a more personal note, the impossible grind of teaching recently began to take its toll on me. I coined a term for what I feel in moments like that with the bank teller: teacher guilt. It was because of teacher guilt that I pushed myself to the limit during the first four years of my career. I found pride in denying myself breaks. At my lowest, I worked a three-month streak without a single day off. No one made me, but no one stopped me either. Every Saturday and Sunday, I was at a competition or in my classroom grading and planning. Instead of expressing concern, people noted the extra days off as a comparable perk.

When people tell teachers we're lucky to get so many breaks, what we actually hear is that we have no room to complain about long hours or impossible standards. That small talk about having summers "off" cuts deep, making us feel unworthy of the salary we do receive. These conversations aren't simply misguided. They're harmful.

Only recently have I begun scaling back. People sneer when I tell them I am home now by 4:30. With that adjustment, I've committed to an exercise routine. I discovered a new hobby in cooking. I don't want to end up like the veteran colleagues I know with poor health and strained marriages. I want to enjoy my job for years to come. That's why I won't let a few ill-chosen words affect me anymore.

Oh, and Bank Lady? Come visit me next Columbus Day. I'll be the one working.