When I first started teaching, I was told about a maxim detailed in this article. It’s about how the best part of teaching—the part that matters—happens inside the classroom. The school politics, the bureaucracy, parents, all the more miserable parts related to teaching, happened on the outside. The trick is remembering the separation, they told me. Remember your job. Forget the noise.
Commonly uttered among teachers was this phrase: “Just shut your door and teach.”
It’s a beautiful sentiment. Focus on the most beautiful part of our job. The learning that happens when your classroom runs on trust, kindness, and respect. The magic of seeing a student finally “get it.” The belly laughs and weird inside jokes. Protect that, and you can ignore all the nonsense outside.
Here’s the problem …
Teachers can’t do that anymore.
Whether it’s done in the name of “parental rights,” justified by anxiety-fueled helicopter parenting, or driven by greed to cash in on yet another standardized test, the toxic garbage that was once outside is now contaminating what used to be a sacred space for so many of us. We used to be able to block out the political sludge, the corrupt school boards, and the manic parents, but we cannot “shut the door” once those things force their way in.
We cannot “shut the door” on directives to empty our library shelves.
We cannot “shut the door” on orders to act as a human shield for our students.
We cannot “shut the door” on a global pandemic that is still raging through our schools.
We cannot “shut the door” on students who are denied the support they need when budget cuts create large class sizes, appalling counselor-to-student ratios, and nowhere near enough professionals for emotional and behavioral support.
We cannot “shut the door” on parents who treat teachers as customer service reps who exist to satisfy their whims instead of providing a professional service.
We cannot “shut the door” on the lack of faith in schools as institutions.
We cannot “shut the door” on the paltry funding that exacerbates this lack of faith and misrepresents it as a teacher problem.
We cannot “shut the door” on a reality where we are entrusted with the most precious people in our country—children—yet also demonized as immoral overlords; where we’re asked to sacrifice our lives for students yet still have to beg every August for school supplies; where we’re heroes when we work ourselves to death and selfish ingrates if we ask for better.
If our leaders aren’t going to set boundaries with parents and school boards, fund schools properly, raise teacher pay to create a more attractive profession, and make the other decisions necessary for prioritizing our educational system, let me be clear: We owe them nothing. For too long they’ve exploited our unpaid labor and kindness to fill in the gaps they intentionally leave.
I shut my own classroom door in May of last year. I miss the sacred space I spent over a decade creating, but not at the price it cost my family and me.
If you can no longer separate what’s outside your classroom and the joy inside it, maybe you should too.
Maybe it’s time we all do.