I have thought a lot this summer about quitting my job. If I were to quit, I could stop slogging through variables and decimals amid the wails of the oppressed youth of America and do something that enchants me for a change. I could learn woodworking or go sailing or live abroad. Quitting wouldn’t cause any major financial hardship if I took on occasional substitute gigs and tutoring opportunities. I could lace up my boots and get my fingers all sticky and frown over art problems and remember what it feels like to be free.
We’re two weeks into this year, and already I can feel a growing knot of stress under my right shoulder blade. My stomach has stopped recognizing familiar foods and has turned gizzard on gravel over red onions and pineapple. School exhausts me: I come home tired, and I don’t sleep well. The emotional drain is a 72 inch pipe in the bottom of my reservoir, and my hundred and twenty kids are Dallas. I hate that even in a good week, I can only hope to fail well every day. In a bad week, the Sisyphean nature of teaching takes its toll and I get smashed flat as everything I’ve worked for unspools at the feet of a school system already so bewildered by bureaucratic inefficiency that it can offer up only the feeblest of support.
I haven’t quit yet, and the reasons why are all between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. This is hard, stressful, unsatisfactory, unsupported work, but it is a labor of tremendous love, and the kids make me smile, even on the worst days. Until recently, there could have been no question at all of my quitting.
Now, I’m teetering on the edge of a choice that I don’t want to make.
At what point do the personal consequences outweigh the value of the ethical work that I’m engaged in? At what point does self-sacrifice become needless and stupid? I love teaching kids, but I feel that I’m being asked to do it under untenable conditions, and that my willingness to go all-in is being abused. Kid-love is a variable, and some days it’s abundantly clear that it’s not enough. Other days, a sweet bit of graffiti blows the k-factor through the roof.