I sent in my resignation later in March. “The physical and emotional commitment that are required to teach well became overwhelming and left little time for me to focus on myself and the other aspects of my life that truly made me happy,” I wrote. Though this was true, what I left out was that the overwhelming “emotional commitment” mostly came from the connection of sharing a background with my students. And though my salary was enough to give me a comfortable lifestyle, and save a decent amount of money, it did not make me feel like I had used my education to pursue a career that was reputable, a career that made my family’s legacy “better.”
When I explained to my students my decision for leaving, many understood. A few even said, “The teachers of color always leave quickly.” Others told me, “We actually always wondered why you were here in the first place. After all that work, why aren’t you chasing your dreams, instead of ours?” Others said, “If I was in your position, I’d probably leave too.” These comments did not comfort me. Instead, they highlighted how even children could recognize that teaching was not a profession to aspire to, and one that people of color, for one reason or another, often abandoned.
I still feel guilty for leaving the classroom. At the end of the year, some students told me, “You are the first Latina I know who went to an Ivy League School.” In a letter, one Latina student wrote, “Seeing one of my own succeed and experience all that you have makes me want to do more and accomplish the impossible”. These comments will always make me feel like I abandoned something, or worse, failed at being someone who my students so desperately needed.
I do not regret my two years teaching at a charter school and being a part of Teach for America. The issues I have presented are not caused by these organizations. Teach for America has demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity: They made it one of their “Core Values.” Wendy Kopp, the founder and chair of the board of Teach for America, has said, "While I started out knowing that diversity would be important, over time I've seen firsthand that achieving greater levels of diversity—particularly with respect to race and economic background—is in fact vital to our long-term success." Teach for America has partnered with several organizations working towards recruiting teachers of color to the profession, hosted forums for alumni of colors to connect and meetings where they have shown a willingness to listen to more voices of teachers of color.
The problem lies in the fact that one well-intentioned organization cannot solve the problems that teachers of color face. There’s a lot that needs to change to prevent more teachers of color from leaving the profession. Schools and teacher-training programs should create a sense of camaraderie among teachers of color so that they don’t feel alone in their work. We need greater emphasis on training cultural awareness so that all teachers and students, regardless of background, feel part of an inclusive community. As a society, we need to make our appreciation for teachers tangible with better salaries, better hours, and more respect. Doing so, college graduates will feel comfortable and secure calling themselves teachers, and will know that their profession is something that can make their families proud.