Just over 1,000 words about my future

I have some news to share with everyone. On Tuesday, I began the process of resigning from my position as a teacher. This has been in the making for me for a month or so as I decided what I wanted to do next in life.

I am returning to USI this summer to begin my Bachelors in Public Relations and minor in some other communication field, or maybe sociology. You’re probably wondering how I got to this point, so let me explain. This is long, so stick with me.

When I graduated from USI, after having student taught and substitute taught in high schools, I accepted the first job I was offered: middle school. There is nothing wrong with middle school; granted, it was not my first choice, but I genuinely learned to love and got excited by the curiosity and personalities of these students. That is not why I am leaving.

Since I started teaching, the atmosphere of education has been saturated with a political undertone in all facets of the profession; from curriculum and assessment to funding and support services, nothing has been spared by the cuts and “reforms” in the state of Indiana. Many states are undergoing similar reforms. What’s sad, is that no teachers with a genuine concern for students and helping them learn (my ultimate priority), have been behind these reforms. Teachers have little say in how things should be managed in classrooms anymore.

I have decided that it is best for me to exit the teaching profession. Will I regret it? Yes, most certainly because I will miss my kids very much. I would do anything to help these students learn and become what they want to be. I am going to miss my colleagues, too. They have become my friends, especially during this school year as I felt the stress and force of things that do not belong in education grasping the control of power and content and curriculum.

At the same time, I know I won’t regret it. I can not willingly let myself be part of a system that I feel does not provide what is best for students. I agree with the state superintendent of public instruction, that testing is ultimately flawed in our state. The tests last year wasted countless days that could have been spent fostering a love of learning, and not rage against a cheap computing device displaying a testing portal from a large company that profits from students clicking bubbles on a screen.

The education system has made me so self-critical, so much so that I do not feel honest all of the time, because I sometimes didn’t even understand my own feelings. One of the things that pushed me over my limits this year was the fact that our special education students had to take the same, rigorous, and ultimately flawed standardized test that all students take. The fact that it was “fair” did not mean justice was given to these students. It makes me sick that some politicians cannot understand this.

I am staying in my teaching position until a replacement is found. I am hoping this may be a fast process, but then again, it may take some time. When I think about the future, I am excited. At the same time, I am very concerned about the state of education – just not public schools, but all schools. The influence of persons with no knowledge or care for the learning process and equity for all students is worrisome, and I hope more allow themselves to be aware of the industry and the reforms coming down the line.

I am thankful for amazing colleagues that know the true reason to teach. I applaud them for their ability to persevere in the conditions in our schools. Teachers deserve more than they get. It’s not about the money, but the genuine appreciation and support; trust that teachers have the best interests of students in mind. Heart matters so much more than a number. Apathy will never win out when a fantastic teacher drives a student to make a difference not just for the world, but for his or her own sake.

There is one other thing I noticed in my almost 300 days as a full-time educator, and it’s not about the classroom. When I was a student, and when my parents and grandparents were in school, students were raised well. Not to say that they are not raised well today, because parents have a lot on their plates, too. I wanted to note that I appreciate parents that take time to read to their kids, talk to them, and ensure they are doing all they can to succeed in school. As I grew up, there were no smartphones and tablets, and everything wasn’t just a quick Google search from being understood. I have seen how the influence of the small screen has changed the next generation. Yes, it’s made them quicker to understand certain things, but it has changed attention spans and modified the attitudes and life skills of this generation, too. I hope all parents will realize that there need to be limitations and a healthy balance of time spent in reality vs. time spent focused on a screen. We need to promote the social aspect of life and that good things exist in just being around other people, listening to stories, and being active.

Now it’s time to journey on into my future. It’s time to embrace the world beyond the four (or sometimes more) walls of a classroom. I know it will be quite different, and it will be nice not to grade the work of others as I go. It will be strange to be referred to by my first name again. But there will be something missing. I will miss the occasional request for “Mr. Kohlmeyer,” or the funny way some of my kiddos called me “Coach K.” A strange feeling happens when one must embark on an unknown path, but I know, just as I have told students when we read my favorite Robert Frost poem, that the path less traveled—less followed—will make all the difference.

Thanks for listening.

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