I have wondered what I am going to say when this moment arrived. I have, admittedly struggled with this decision and worried at length that I am abandoning my principles and my convictions. I had hoped I had something deep and meaningful to say, some powerful statement to offer up as a remembrance of my thoughts but none occur.
Today is my last real day as a teacher. I haven't worked as an educator in a classroom in nine months and have been unaffiliated with any school district for the past six. This date marks the end of my membership in the BC Teachers' Federation which means, essentially, I'm just some guy now.
I spent four of the past ten years teaching in a classroom, one year as a First Nations Support Worker and six years waiting for calls to work. Basically, on one level, I can't afford to teach anymore. On another level, the challenges, many students I worked with, faced took their toll on me and I found the need to take breaks to try and recover my own health. I struggled, and continue to struggle, with depression and it takes a lot of the fight out of you. Add to this, the politics of working in district and the challenges imposed by the BC government and I found myself losing ground and my own identity.
I have always been an advocate of Aboriginal Education and I have seen the tides come and go with regard to it. The two areas wherein I always felt valued was in the classroom and advocating for Aboriginal Education with the BCTF. It felt just to be doing this work for our students and teachers of Aboriginal ancestry. It was meaningful.
After I returned from my medical leave, it was not the same. I struggled in the classroom. I struggled to have a voice as an advocate. In both I was very conscious of the fact that a) the supports I needed were not there, and b) I was failing my students. I could lay blame for the lack of supports at the doors of the district or the BCTF (and they should have some of it) but I have to take my share in that I was unable to articulate my needs and still struggle to explain what I need to be the teacher my students deserve and need.
Am I abandoning my principles? In light of what I have always perceived as a lightweight dedication to Aboriginal Education from the provincial system and a joke from the federal government, is walking away, in a way, giving up? Possibly. I've made no secret of my growing cynicism over the past ten years and it has become far more acute since I got sick. It is hard to promise a brighter future for our kids when I can't seem to break out of the cycle despite my education. When you remain at the bottom, telling your students that education will raise them up feels hollow.
Am I abandoning my convictions? How do you tell someone that education will bring equity when they still face the systemic discriminations that I face? How do you transform the education system when the system believes that Aboriginal Education is for Aboriginal people only and no one believes they are part of the problem? Aboriginal graduation rates mean nothing if they are graduating into a world that is not accepting of who they are.
In my return to the classroom, my students saw an extremely unhappy person who was unsure of himself, unsure of his passion and displeased with the curriculum he was teaching.
It has been an honour and a privilege to be a part of the educational journeys of the many students and teachers I have encountered over the past ten years. Trust me when I say that the successes hearten and the failures tear at me constantly, joining the ghosts that follow after me. It has filled me with joy when young adults approach at the mall and introduce me to their children or when they have contacted me to share their successes and challenges. Not all success is reflected by grades. When I told kids to resist by succeeding, I was after that fire you see sparking in their eyes when they gain understanding and that didn't always translate into good grades but in confidence, self-esteem and pride in themselves. It was great to see sometimes.
I have always understood that, as a teacher, as an individual of First Nations ancestry, my life lived is, by default, political. I am a role model whether I want to be or not, in whatever I choose to do. Our students need to see us succeeding, living well, making good choices. And they need to see us learning to leave something that is not working for us. They need to see us taking control of our own destinies. They need to see us making the choice to walk away from something that is unhealthy.
Yeah, we're always finding teachable moments.
I want to try something new, perhaps find that place where I belong or a new way to look at the world with wonder. I don't know if I am done with the education system, or this blog, but it is time for something new.