This post was written by NCTE member Lindsey Franklin.
May 2022: I sit at home on a Sunday prepping sub plans as I contemplate whether or not the work of writing sub plans outweighs the work of going to school while sick. In the end, it’s easier to go to school than to work to make up for all the responsibilities and tasks that will be missed if I stay home to care for myself. This dilemma is one that many teachers often face, and the question comes down to whether care of ourselves or care of our careers is more important. But how effective can an exhausted, overwhelmed teacher truly be to his or her students?
In May of 2022, I was at the end of my fifteenth year of teaching at the school where I began my career—a school where I had built years of relationships and community with my students and my colleagues. But what I did not realize until later was that I had also built up years of emotional trauma from the challenges and hardships that my students and I faced. I was working at a magnet school with a population of around 1,300 students in grades 9–12 that served both the kids in the surrounding neighborhood and students that were bussed in for an international baccalaureate program. I was one of the few teachers that taught in both programs. Most years, I had between 125–145 students in my classes, and this year, our first fully in-person year after the pandemic, I had my largest group of students yet, with nearly 30 in every class period. Another challenge faced was that most students had not been in a school since their eighth-grade year, and they were now in my class for tenth grade without any semblance of how to interact with their peers, their teachers, or even themselves. I was also tasked with teaching AP English curriculum to all these students as well as preparing them for the state standardized assessment that is done in the tenth grade year and is required for graduation. This pressure is one that many teachers face, whether it is one that they place on themselves or a weight that is put there by their administration or even state. This burden is one that kept my weekdays full of AP practice essays and assessments and thus my weekends were full of essay feedback writing and paper grading, to the point that it was not uncommon for me to spend up to eight hours on Sundays grading.
As the year ended and I ended nearly every day at a point of exhaustion, I learned of an opportunity at a nearby K–12 developmental research school to teach twelfth grade ELA. Change can be scary for anyone, particularly when we are comfortable, but at what cost do we ignore the fear? My biggest fear when thinking about the possibility of the new position was what would happen if I left the community that I knew and loved. I decided to take a risk, to update my resume for the first time in 15 years, and to apply for the position. A week after the school year came to its close, I accepted the position at the new school and left the school I had been at for the entirety of my teaching career.
August 2022: my first day with students in my new position as the twelfth grade ELA teacher at a school that serves 1,300 students total in grades K–12. Instead of having nearly 30 in all class periods, my average class size is around 20. My fear now is how to create a community with these new students when some of them have literally been at the same school together since kindergarten. How would the students react to me, a new-to-the-school teacher, during their final year of high school?
As the year unfolded, I worked to build community with reflective lessons and honest dialogue, I shared books that I truly believe in and love, and I was open with my students about my fears, and to my surprise, the students accepted me with open arms. The students invited me to their sporting events, band concerts, school plays, and more. And with fewer students and fewer papers to grade, I was able to attend. And I loved being there with them. Together with the students, we started a book club, went on field trips, we played games, and we prepared for a rigorous AP English exam, all while still building community. For so many years, my former school fit me as a teacher as I was able to build and foster community by keeping in touch with students that I taught in tenth grade as they went on in future years and the mentorship that I participated in with the school’s Extended Essay program. However, all the years of unpaid and afterschool-hours activities began to weigh on me. The time spent at school and not with my family no longer fit my life and I needed a change to allow myself the space to breathe and to be a better teacher. All the things that I would encourage my students to do to find joy and happiness in their classes and clubs, I too, needed to do for myself, and that was finally possible when I made the career change.
May 2023: the end of my first year at a new school, my sixteenth year teaching I take a sick day if I need to, and when I come back to class the next day, I am greeted by smiles, well wishes, and the words, “We missed you, Ms. Franklin.”
Last year I took a risk to leave a job that was comfortably uncomfortable, and in it I found that I could again find community, and with that change, find joy. I hope to continue to grow in this new community in a new school. I hope that this blog post can encourage others to do the same.
Lindsey Franklin has been an English teacher and a member of NCTE for over 16 years. She currently teaches twelfth grade English at P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida.
Ms. Franklin at her new school with two of her twelfth-grade ELA students on the steps behind the main office wearing matching AP literature class shirts.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.