Exodus: A Teacher’s Story

In less than forty-eight hours, I will be crossing the West Virginia state line for the final time. Though I spent the better part of my youth daydreaming of a larger world and much of my early adulthood was lost to pipedream plans of leaving, I never left. Something, or somethings, always kept me here—whether it be that primordial connection to place or a sense of obligation to stay and fix what has gone sour or a simple yet disabling fear of actualizing the reality of that larger world I so often longed for—there was always something that stilled me. That time, though, has passed.

With the momentum of a boulder plummeting downhill, I began to push past dreaming and wishing and started actively working to leave. I felt propelled, driven out, almost. What changed, you ask, what shifted the track so fundamentally that I now find myself on the very cusp of leaving? Simply this: the realization that I can no longer stay. That to do so would cripple my growth and, vastly more importantly, my daughter’s growth. I hit the proverbial ceiling here and have found it nigh on impossible to shatter; I want no ceiling for my child. I have looked around for opportunities and exposure for my child and have found this place wanting. But even more than finding my place of origin lacking, something darker has begun to gather on the horizon: an attack on public education.

This story, unfortunately, is no longer unique to our state, but is an illness plaguing our nation, so I am not naive in thinking I will not encounter similar issues in other areas. Nor am I suggesting that public education itself isn’t sick and broken and in need of serious revision and restructuring—any educator worth their salt has something to say about how the system works (or, rather, doesn’t work). But there is a fundamental difference in the condition here in West Virginia: the blatant refusal of elected officials to listen to the collective voice of the people. The stubborn and malicious manner in which they turn their heads and close off their ears (and their minds) to those of us in the trenches who know better than any what it takes to effectively ensure the success and achievement of our children here in the mountain state and, equally important, what would be to their detriment. This is no longer about the children, and I’m not sure anymore that it ever was. The majority of the Republican party in the Senate, especially, seem hell-bent on tearing down education in this state for the sake of tearing down its educators. There seems to be a vendetta, so petty and ridiculous in nature it calls to mind the image of a lover scorned and publicly humiliated, blindly set on carrying out vengeance regardless of the cost to others. And the costs, if they win, will be great indeed, my friends.

Education is not and should not be a partisan issue, but it has become one. And adults are playing with the futures of children who have been given no agency in this matter. Until the rift is mended and the adults in the situation decide to set aside differences (and out-of-state parties that should not be considered stakeholders) and work together, conditions in West Virginia will continue to degrade. The simple truth is this: when working to better education, effective educators must represent the majority brought to the table. We know our craft and, more importantly, we know our students—where they come from, what they need, where they excel, who they aspire to become. We know what works, and we know what doesn’t work, because we are in those classrooms with those kids day in and day out. We are teachers, parents, counselors, advisors, mentors, friends—our roles are numerous and ever-changing. We spend more time with these kids than they spend with their families. For many kids, we are their family, or better than. Yet we are devalued and ignored and talked over and, now, villainized and criminalized.

In the span of fourteen months, I have had to walk out of my classroom TWICE to defend my rights within it and to fight for the education my kids deserve. And it doesn’t look like the battle is anywhere near over. I can’t stay here anymore. And I don’t want to. This place has become too toxic, too volatile. Too many things have gone sour, too much corruption, too much decay, too much destruction. I don’t want this life for myself, and I certainly don’t want it for my daughter. But there are others that I leave behind, other kids that are mine but not mine. And they are the cause of my heartbreak, my guilt.

I have a B.A. in English, a B.A. in Secondary Education, an M.A. in Composition and Rhetoric, and an M.S. in Educational and Instructional Leadership. I am a damn good teacher, and I am leaving West Virginia.

6 Comments

  1. My heart breaks for you and all educators in WV. I am sorry you are leaving for you are the kind if teacher who is desperately in the mountain state, but I understand why you must leave. I wish you and your family the best.

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    • Thank you so much for the well wishes. It certainly was a decision made with great sorrow, but I felt it was the only option left for us. It’s so hard leaving my kids behind.

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  2. IMHO you are making a simple but difficult decision. The way you describe how it feels, the sense of being pushed out, resonates with me. Also the part about calculating the costs to your own child. Thank you for being so direct about your choices. Caring about a place should not have to mean risking everything about your life and the lives of your children. Elected officials, are you listening?

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    • Thank you for your commentary. I think at this point honesty and directness are crucial to spur change. There is so much discord and spite sown between political parties right now, and personal gain and personal vendettas are taking priority over listening to any real stakeholders.

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  3. Accolades to this teacher for stating facts, another teacher that is leaving WV for a brighter future. As I read this article, I could visualize tears running down the cheeks while knowing that staying in WV would be a detriment to his/hers future. Politicians must soon realize that the path many of them have embarked upon is the Low road and WV and the nation must take the High road to insure a positive future,

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    • Well said, and thank you for your commentary! I hope other teachers who have chosen to leave or are contemplating leaving will speak out publicly about their choices, as well. WV leadership needs to realize how much larger the problem is growing. If things are going to change, differences need to be set aside and teachers must be brought to the table as part of the solution. But there has been so much damage done between people that some serious mending of trust and relationships needs to occur as part of finding a solution.

      Reply

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