It’s funny to think how much a single choice can affect one’s life. We don’t often recognize them in the moment they are made, but only in retrospect, often many years later when reflecting on how we got to a particular juncture in our life’s journey. For me, that choice was becoming a substitute teacher during the 2003-2004 school year. I was a graduate student working on an MA in Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, and I needed some extra money to make ends meet. I had already been teaching as a graduate assistant for over a year, and I was starting to discover that what I loved about teaching others was sharing what I had learned in my own past.
As I’ve said a number of times over the years, I never intended to become a teacher. Looking back on my career, what I now realize is that I am a deeply curious person who has always had a lifelong love of learning. If I had any success at teaching during nearly two decades in the classroom, it is primarily due to cultivating meaningful relationships with my students, as well as doing my best to inspire them to live their best lives as they left high school and moved into the real world. But that’s not to say the entire time spent with my students and colleagues was not fun. I would also unequivocally state that the time I spent teaching students of all levels, across three different disciplines, and learning so much from my peers and mentors along the way was worth every second of the last 17 years.
But taking leave last year effectively broke me. Like many others who had the time to reflect and re-prioritize life objectives during the pandemic, I decided to take part in the “Great Resignation,” which has seen many, many people walk away from their respective industries to find new work in other domains. Considering my wife and I are both teachers, we also thought it wise to diversify our income streams, especially in light of the financial turmoil our district is facing. There is so little money invested in education here in Florida that most educators have not had meaningful raises for years, and I highly doubt there will ever be any if I plod onward for another 13 years in this system as an educator.
To my colleagues past and present, whether at Durant, during my travels as a new teacher mentor, or at Strawberry Crest, thank you for being educators. Only those of us who work with students day in and day out know how challenging this job can be, especially if that meant staying in the classroom. The lack of resources and constant demands heaped upon our time has made the job inordinately difficult in the last five years or so, and I am afraid it will only continue to deteriorate. To every educator across Florida, I’ve said this before and it is worth repeating one final time: know your worth and get out while you can. It is amply evident that the state of Florida does not care about its educators. From the paltry pay to the insulting pension, Florida has—whether intentionally or not—created an education system that seeks to transform inspired young people into burned out veterans within 3-5 years. If most new teachers quickly leave the profession, they are not as burdensome on the district’s payroll and cost the state nothing in terms of retirement. While most teachers are afraid to leave the profession because they worry that “they don’t know how to do anything else,” I would encourage any educator to take stock of the myriad skills they have developed. Most of us are excellent communicators; can analyze data for trends and patterns; are astute and agile decision makers; empathize easily with others; as well as possess a whole host of other soft skills that would make us valuable to just about any employer. In the end, Florida has a lot of very talented people working in its ranks that could easily find a new career, and I personally think that the only thing that would get Florida to finally wake up is if most of the veteran educators suddenly quit en masse.
Finally, to my students, you were the reason I stayed for so long. You were the reason I woke up each day, excited to come to work knowing that I would be spending time with incredible young people who invigorated me, and pushed me to be my best when it came to learning, living, and loving. Thank you for letting me be my nerdy, weirdo self at all times. Thank you for sharing your lives, your passions, your dreams with me. Although I may not remember every single name, I remember and recognize most faces, even after many years apart. Personally, I believe life itself is an incredible blessing, and the relationships we forge with other human beings as we sojourn through this journey together are all meant to teach us something, to make us just a little bit better. I keep each and every one of you in my heart, mind, and prayers each day, and though we may never cross paths again I am honored and humbled to have been a small part of your life.
It’s common to say “never say never,” and the truth is that I may eventually be drawn back to the classroom due to my love of the students and sharing my learning. But I am taking this personal leave to try something new with the intention of never coming back. Although I feel broken in some way, the truth is the cracks had been growing for some time. Being an education advocate for the last 5 years has also hastened this, because trying to convince the powers that be that they are destroying the profession has been like shouting into a wind tunnel and all anyone can hear is the roar of the fan. For these reasons and so many more, I wish every Florida educator all the best…
Ryan Haczynski / Teacher Voice