My family is filled with teachers.
My mom has a degree in elementary education. Her mom was a first-grade teacher. Her brother was a math teacher, and his wife a guidance counselor. My dad is the only member of his family who never worked in the classroom: one sister is a music teacher and the other is in special education. Their brother teaches at a college. Their mother ran the one-room schoolhouse in their small South Dakota town.
I married a woman who was getting her teaching degree. When we graduated, I got a job as a substitute teacher.
After a few years, my wife and I both started working at a new charter school. She was a middle school English teacher: I started as a building sub and moved to a remedial program.
Then one day, I was laid off. Our school was overstaffed, and I was the only person without a teaching degree.
They gave me a month's severance and offered to give me a good recommendation if I needed it.
I spent a lot of time in reflection that month. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. Because at that point, I had intended to continue my career at that school. I was planning to spend the summer going through a training that would allow me to lead a new program.
But as I reflected on my career path that month, I had a startling moment of self discovery.
I didn't actually like teaching.
I liked the relationships I built with my students. I liked watching them master difficult concepts and overcome challenges.
But that was it. I didn't like any of the rest of my job. I didn't like the early mornings or the long hours. I hated the pressure that was placed on passing the test.
I hated that I was explicitly told not to work with kids who failed by too large a margin. After all, they might improve by ten points, but they're still ten points from failing.
It was bullshit.
While I had already known that the American education system had a lot to improve on. But in the meantime, kids were being set up for failure.
Because the kids that fail the state test don't just go away when they drop out of school. They're still in our communities, and they still need support.
While the current 80% graduation rate is an all time high, that other 20% isn't being served in a traditional school setting.
Educators have known this for decades. And yet, budgets continue to be slashed. Teachers are underpaid and under-equipped. States facing teacher shortages (like my native Indiana) try to address the issue by lowering requirements for licensing rather than increasing budgets.
As a result, the education system is collapsing in on itself. And I didn't want to go down with that ship.
And as much as it might make me sound like a terrible person, I realized I could replace my meager income without nowhere near the stress that teaching brought.
Now, instead of any sort of formal teaching, my wife and I run a makerspace, where we give kids (and adults) access to a variety of artistic resources. We also offer a number of classes where they can learn to paint, work pottery, create jewelry, use a 3D printer, and more.
And while that might not look great on a resume or college application, it instills a level of autonomy and value that, currently, the school system just isn't doing.
So we'll continue to support and educate the students in our community. We'll help efforts for reform as we can. But we probably won't be dusting off our teaching licenses any time soon.