Letter of Resignation
Our middle school culture is a reflection of our ability or the lack thereof to transform our children from the inside out. Day in and day out, we see extreme levels of anger among them, we silently feel triggered when they yell at us in front of their friends or call other students names. They disrespect one another and their teachers because they see us as weak, worthless, disposable, and powerless. They see themselves as such as well. The way our children act is the way they truly feel. These feelings are not being transformed by us, they are expanding from the root, right in front of us.
Let’s be real: our children have been offered and have accepted a mediocre education for a very long time and when the bar is set higher for them, whether in the form of uniformed behavioral expectations that attempt to ensure their physical and emotional safety or scaffolded teaching strategies that prompt higher-ordered, critical thinking skills, they either shut down or lash out—because being held to low standards is their norm. They are comfortable with not knowing more than they know. They embrace an ignorant mindset in the same way a baby would a plush blanket. Doing nothing is good to them. The minimum yields complaints of us as their teachers, making them “do the most.”
Yesterday, I listened to leadership-ready students complain about their teachers, and not one teacher said anything as a rebuttal because we all knew it would evoke more misdirected anger among the grade. This is sad because it’s almost as if we have given up on believing that anything we say or do will change the flagrant behaviors of our egotistical eighth grade class. Is it us? Is it just our school? Is the lack of positive decision making declining more than ever among the Black child in our nation? This year, alone, I have been called a bitch 5 times out of a total of 7 times in my entire career as a city teacher. There have only been 4 fights in my classroom within the last 11 years of teaching, 3 of those 4 took place in my current school. Make no mistake, this is not about behavior data at my school, this is about the children that attend our school. I believe there are two major issues plaguing our students: the literacy deficit, which many of us are steadfast in tending; and the trauma among our children, which is an urgent epidemic that we are not adequately equipped to heal. Many of us do more than what we can but that leads us with little to no energy to serve ourselves
My ability to maintain my self-care and sanity, in spite of having a severe mental illness, is the most precious achievement I covet. I cannot risk losing my mind as I give so much of myself for the love of little people who do not yet love themselves enough to show me the simplest forms of kindness and respect.
I am too passionate for this level of failure.
Today, it triggered me to the point of wanting to walk out and never return. This is not an unfamiliar solution to these feelings. I grew up abused and told to remain silent, so I ran then, too. Witnessing abuse and being abused by my students brings those newly quelled feelings back. I am not here for that.
This is a letter of resignation from allowing this to persist. I will not continue teaching when I am disrespected by a student. I will wait for a school support member to conduct a restorative measure within my classroom or remove the student and support the student, emotionally with me, before they reenter my class. Raising our children sometimes means reprimanding them and this is community work. Our children should never get the chance to lament and complain about us without it being addressed and resolved with us, individually. Emotional intelligence must be explicitly taught. We have a responsibility to use our school to transform this city in a way that impacts generations to come.
Together, we can pinpoint our so-called high-fliers in all grades but realistically, what all of our children need from us is ongoing therapy through consistent opportunities to release their pinned up emotions. This can happen in our content areas but we need to be supported on how.
The behaviors among the majority of our city’s youth looks the same. There are anomalies but they are just that—anomalies. Educators and caregivers are all asking the same question of, what else can we do to transform the mindset of our young people. It feels like there really is no answer, so we adopt a defeatism that allows the question to remain a question. I am no longer accepting this. Our schools must crack the code.
Passionately and unapologetically,
Valencia D. Clay