I’m in an abusive relationship. It feels good to finally admit that. It’s been going on for about 13 years. But, I think I’m about ready to end it—for my own sanity and health, but it’s so hard to break away.
Now, before my friends call the police, it’s not a person abusing me…it’s a system, a career. My teaching career is slowly eroding me. And, I finally need to tell someone. If teaching is also your abusive relationship, maybe my story will help you, too.
(Note: since I’m hetero, and for the sake of flow, I’ll refer to my relationship in male terms.)
I fell in love with teaching sometime in the break between my Associate’s and Bachelor’s. Teaching seemed so perfect. It was such a good match. Since I was older when I made the decision, I didn’t begin the relationship with rose-colored glasses or romantic ideas. I wanted this relationship and was passionate about my choice.
But, I should’ve seen the warning signs. Others tried to warn me.
Yet, I just knew I was strong enough, and things would be different with me. Teaching and I would have a much stronger relationship because we were destined to be together. Others were in their relationship for the wrong reasons. I was in it because I truly wanted him.
I was so wrong.
The abuse began within the first year.
It started small: taking me for granted, piling work on me, expecting me to make do…but there was still some money for the “nice things” (like books and supplies). He was always apologetic for the extra duties. He always sweet-talked me into doing more “for the kids.” How could I deny him? Our kids were incredibly important. He and I needed to make things work because their very futures were at stake.
So, I put on a stiff upper lip and pulled on my big girl panties and found my grit and something with bootstraps and all those other martyr clichés. Because (and here’s the ultimate martyr cliché) I was doing it for the kids. What could be nobler than that? No sacrifice would be too great. Of course I would do whatever was needed…for the kids.
However, the abuse grew worse. No matter how much I did, it was never enough. Outsiders even hurled abuse at me. They had no idea what my relationship was like, but they sure knew I was at fault. They rarely had enough insight to blame him. I was the problem.
But, again, I stayed for the kids. As he withheld increasingly more money and piled more chores on me, his demands on my time grew. He expected me to use my meager salary to buy school supplies and make my room inviting and purchase books and buy snacks and tissues and clothes and on and on.
He expected me to turn in two grades per week because of…reasons. He didn’t care what we actually were working on in class. Those grades were tantamount. He expected me to rely on statistical data and wouldn’t trust me to be able to measure a student’s personal growth and improvement. He expected me to post a word wall and have learning targets and use objectives (disguised as standards) and follow his whims and stream of consciousness ideas about education.
Whenever he saw something shiny and new, I was expected to become that. And he continued to take away money and trust and respect me less.
I had to use blackboards and whiteboards and overhead projectors and computer labs and Chromebooks and Smartboards and Edmodo and Remind 101 and Kahoot and Peardeck and GAfE and gamification and so many other toys. He swore each one would help educate all of our children. However, he never let me stay on one for very long before he got bored and threw another toy at me—and expected me to immediately comply.
I had to also manage IEP’s and 504’s and individualize for each student’s needs and prep our kids for tests he chose—but had little to do with what I actually taught in class. He judged me, and our kids, completely based on those tests. I couldn’t understand why he sold our children to these testing and curriculum companies. Those places didn’t care about our kids. Yet, he trusted their numbers more than he trusted my judgment.
Throughout all this, he heaped emotional, verbal, and physical abuse on me. I was called lazy, greedy, selfish. I wasn’t allowed to eat regularly (because of all my chores) or go to the bathroom when I needed. I stopped drinking water like I should so I could cut down on bathroom trips. I quit exercising so I would have more time to grade papers and write lesson plans. He shamed me and made me feel guilty for every sick day I used. I also had to find time for professional development and reading, much of which I had to pay for myself. What he grudgingly offered during work hours didn’t feed my soul or inspire me to challenge myself or push toward excellence. Instead, it demoralized me and forced me into more compliance. That PD made me feel like an idiot and a robot.
Each year I questioned more whether I was good enough. I couldn’t see how all the mandates helped our kids, but surely that was my problem. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t stomach Marzano or the other “experts” he said were our friends.
The final straw came recently. And, I walked out, temporarily, on our relationship and our kids. I approached him reasonably and logically. I asked for more money for our kids and for myself. He closed his door on me. He ignored me. He left work early to avoid me. He said hurtful things about me—behind my back. He treated my simple requests as a joke. Finally, he simply waited me out.
Yes, I gave up and went back…for the kids. What else could I do?
I tried to make myself feel better with platitudes. I tried to shore up my broken heart with slogans (“Remember in November”). I tried to bind up my bleeding wounds with smiles and promises. I tried to fake optimism and bravery…for the kids.
But, I’ll be honest. I think people like hating me more than they want to fix him. Ultimately, people like their comfortable grooves. Change is painful and scary. It’s much easier to continue the way we always have, to stay in the abuse.
That’s why I’m afraid the only thing that will actually change is me. I will work to change him, but from the outside. I have already agreed to one more year of teaching, but I think that may be it for me. If I weren’t almost halfway through my Master’s (in curriculum), I’d find a completely different “relationship.” But, I am done with being abused. I am done with smiling and looking “pretty.” I’m done making life easy for him. I’m done doing it “for the kids.” I’m done being a doormat and a scapegoat and a whipping boy. I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I do know I will not continue being someone’s pawn.
I am mad as hell. I will not be gaslighted anymore. I plan on dismantling the fucker with my own two hands. I plan on using my hard-earned expertise and my Master’s degree to chip away at his power, little by little. My life’s work and my passion will go toward eroding his abusive and discriminatory behaviors, to ending his autocratic control.
I will not go down without a fight. I am taking control right now. I hope other teachers will also wake up and make the decision to end the abuse.
After all, we are doing it for the kids. But, we are also saving our profession and ourselves. It’s time to rise up and take back our money, our time, our sanity, and our lives.
It is time to say, “Enough!” and to take more than a 10-day symbolic stand. Look around and recognize the signs of abuse in your life.
Now, let’s come together and really make a difference for ourselves…and for the kids.