I recently crossed 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 pipe-dream 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? What shifted the track so fundamentally that I now find myself 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 not 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, advisers, 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. Yet we are devalued and ignored and talked over and, now, villainized and criminalized.
In the span of 14 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.