I have been thinking a lot about my career, and have even asked myself if the profession I have chosen is a sustainable one. Sustainable is a magic word these days, and can easily conjure images of windmills, electric cars, and “grown locally” stamped on everything we eat. My definition has more to do with not getting burned out and if I am paying my mortgage on time. Before I drop this popular term so easily, let’s look at a few of Merriam Webster’s definitions:
1. Able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed, (By Friday this is not always the case.)
2. Involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources (Why do I grade so many papers on the weekend then?)
3. Able to last or continue for a long time, (I hope so, but summer seems so far away. Can I even think about retirement?)
My previous blogs have dealt strictly with mental health, and the benefits of mindfulness meditation. “Burnout” can be avoided in my opinion with healthy personal practices and thoughtful self-care. I want to shift gears a bit for this new series, and refocus my writing towards this magic word, sustainability, in particular, financial sustainability for teachers.
I sought out a successful teacher to interview. I found Mr. David Farkas, a math and science specialist who seems to have both his teacher stress levels, and his educator finances in order.
Nick: How long have you been at it? What’s your experience?
Dave: Hi Nick and thanks for this opportunity. I’ve been teaching secondary science and mathematics for fourteen years and my experience varies wildly. I’ve been in public education the whole time in the Durango Colorado area. Ask any regular ed. classroom teacher and they’ll tell you that no two classes are the same, no two years operate the same, and our kids are so unique and bio-chemically challenged that their personalities vary from minute to minute, year to year!
Nick: I’m in total agreement Dave. I’ve been in the classroom for eleven years, and what a ride! Magical moments come and go, most unrecorded, and many unrecognized. The hats we wear and the kids whom we spend so much precious time with, and get to know and help on deep levels, always amaze me. Because a teacher has to be a counselor, a coach, a drill sergeant, and a guide on the path of life, the demands on one’s psyche can be tremendous. What are your views on “teacher burnout?”
Dave: The stats for teacher burnout/occupation change show that nationally, an average teacher lasts seven years before changing their career. This could be within the confines of education or simply leaving teaching to try something else.
Nick: Why do you think this happens?
Dave: Well…that’s an interesting question and one that needs to be investigated further. I too left teaching to build custom homes after my 7th year. I needed a break. My classroom seemed to be going well, kids were learning and performing well on state tests, and my collegial relationships were great. What pushed me out of education initially were the bureaucracy and the nightmarish dictatorial hierarchy that public education has developed. Those at the top feel that the success of the district is because of what they’re doing when in reality, teachers inside buildings with direct contact to students are the ones making a difference.
Nick: Thanks Dave, you, your colleagues, and all the teachers out there, deserve a lot of credit for all that goes into your job.
This conversation, which centers on the subject of teaching as a sustainable profession will be continued in my next post. Thank you for reading and for sharing.
Nicholas Philliou, 7th grade humanities teacher in Durango, Colorado