Elementary school teacher Sariah McCall was in her classroom every morning at 6:45 a.m., taught bell-to-bell classes, attended meetings during her planning period and worked assigned lunch and recess duties with little time to eat or go to the restroom. When the bell rang for the 2:15 p.m. student dismissal, she worked an assigned bus or hall duty, followed by lesson and classroom prep. Sometimes, she left school by 5 p.m. At home, McCall would work on more grading and paper work until 11 p.m. or midnight, then finally sleep — and repeat.
But the workload was not sustainable for McCall. Now, she’s sharing the powerful resignation letter she wrote explaining why she left teaching for good.
“The only things keeping me from resigning until now were the love I have for my students, the love I have for the act of teaching, and the heavy guilt I feel for my children being negatively impacted by this in any way: emotionally or academically,” McCall wrote to the Charleston County School District in November.
“However, I cannot set myself on fire to keep someone else warm,” McCall wrote as a slight to an “inspirational” teacher quote that likens teachers to candles that must “consume itself to light the way for others.”
“I felt like I was running on a hamster while going nowhere. I was just working all the time and there was still more to do. The to-do-list was never-ending,” McCall tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I just couldn't do it anymore.”
And McCall isn’t the only one — South Carolina has been dealing with a mass exodus of public teachers leaving their positions. According to the South Carolina Annual Educator Supply & Demand Report, over 7,300 public school teachers left their positions left during or at the end of the 2017 to 2018 school year. Nearly 73 percent of those educators are no longer teaching in any South Carolina public school.
“There’s mass teacher burnout in this state. We’re so overworked,” says 8th-grade math teacher Sanni Perry, a board member for an education advocacy group called SC for Education that McCall was also involved with. “We don’t have break to go to the bathroom or eat lunch. When you combine all that together on top of the financial stress, you can only give so much of yourself. I’m putting out all these fires but there’s nothing left for me to give. I cannot maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep my sanity with everything that I’m having to do.”
McCall says she never saw herself leaving teaching until it was happening. However, when she found that her job became “less about teaching the kids and making sure that mandates were fulfilled,” McCall made the decision that her own well-being needed to take precedence. “You can't keep killing yourself over it because it's not helping anybody. I had to prioritize that I had to be more important than my career. And it still sounds really selfish and I still feel guilty about it,” McCall explains.
As the oldest of all her siblings and cousins, McCall says she spent a lot of time raising other people’s children and was inspired by several “influential teachers” to take up the profession. “I wanted to teach at the elementary level because I wanted to give kids a really good foundation for the rest of their lives,” McCall says. After getting her master’s degree at Georgia Southern University, McCall began her career at a Savannah, Ga., elementary school, and later moved to Charleston, S.C. where she worked for a little over a year before resigning.
“They say if you can make it through the first three you’re golden, if you can make it past five you’re in the clear,” says McCall, who was in her fifth year of teaching when she resigned. “But, I found that it got harder every year.”
South Carolina public school teacher contracts outline contract hours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but include mandatory assigned duties. McCall tells Yahoo Lifestyle she almost always worked long past those hours uncompensated; she only called it quits when her fiancé got home from his night-shift at 11 p.m. or midnight. On top of teaching full-time, McCall also worked three to five days a week at a restaurant to make ends meet; she says her manager would let her grade papers in her down time at the hostess stand. In her spare free time, McCall even served as an area representative for SC for Education to advocate for higher compensation, more resources, smaller classroom sizes and more for public school educators. However, she felt that many of the teacher’s pleas went unheard in an echo chamber and were rarely addressed.
Due to the mounting stress and demands of her job, McCall took a medical leave in the middle of her time at Murray Lasaine Elementary School. “It was teaching-related,” the former educator tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The stress and other things that have to do with the job, they impacted both my physical and mental health to the point that I had to be on leave.”
During her leave, McCall wrote an emotional resignation letter for herself as a “cathartic experience” when deciding whether or not she would be able to finish out the school year. “I realized I just couldn't. That letter wasn't just an experience, it was my reality. I had to submit it. I couldn't go back after that,” the 28-year-old says.
In the letter addressed to the Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait on Nov. 5, 2018, McCall attributes her resignation to the “unrealistic demands and all-consuming nature of the profession,” that she believed to be “systemic abuse and neglect of educators.”
“Do more with less time, funding and resources. Take more of the blame, guilt, and responsibility. Be ready to sacrifice your personal life, mental health, and physical safety. Don’t be a complainer,” McCall wrote in the letter.
Despite loving her job and kids, McCall wrote the that the expectations of teachers in America could be likened to the signs of abuse provided by the Domestic Abuse Hotline. “If you replace ‘he’ with ‘public education,’ it would almost match perfectly with what we are all going through across America,” the former teacher wrote.
“In the hardest act of selfishness I have ever been faced with, I must put myself over the demands of helping raise other people’s children. I won’t be in an abusive relationship with public education any longer.” McCall went on to add that because of her love for teaching, she would not “tolerate what the state is doing to educators and children under its care.”
After submitting her resignation letter, McCall claims that Postlewait and other Charleston County School District administrators only called her to inquire if she would re-write her resignation letter to “something that was a little less emotional.”
“They weren’t asking to reconsider resigning they were asking to reconsider writing my resignation letter,” she says.
The Charleston County School District did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.
McCall later shared her letter with current and former teachers who encouraged her to share it publicly. McCall’s resignation letter was first published on Tuesday by the Washington Post and has since been shared by many teachers across the country.
“I feel like with just how raw it was, it really resonated because we are hurting and it can feel hopeless,” says McCall. “But when you know that you're not the only teacher and it's not just your school, it can kind of empower you because you know you're not alone anymore.”
The former elementary school teacher has since moved back to Savannah where she is working in the food and beverage industry. Although she says she misses teaching, theMcCall says her quality of life has improved significantly in the months since she quit her job in education.
McCall says she hopes the letter will also shatter the misconception that teaching is simply a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. day job that lasts 180 days of the year with summer breaks. “So many people forget that we're just also people. I hope that the public realizes how much actually goes into the job and starts to see value in it.”
If anything, McCall hopes that her letter will also serve as a rallying cry for the legislators and the public to actually support public education and its teachers.
“I hope that people stop saying that education is important and that teachers deserve better and that our students deserve better and they actually start proving it,” says McCall.“Stop saying that education is important and actually make it important. At this point, we're just crumbling.”
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