by Sarah Pedersen
(This is a guest piece written by a sixth grade teacher in Richmond.)
I love being a teacher. My mom, an educator of 34 years, a 6th generation teacher herself, often told me it is the best job in the world. You get to mold futures. Your challenges are always different. You get to think on your feet. The rewards are tremendous. No day is like the day before, and you have the opportunity to build a legacy that matters to your community and your own family. There is no job like it in the world, and no opportunity more precious, than that of being a public school teacher.
Teaching sixth-grade US History at Binford Middle School in Richmond Public Schools is the best job I’ve ever had. Every day, while walking down our steps, my feet descend but my heart soars. I love it here. My students are thoughtful, kind, compassionate, intelligent and truly a joy to teach. We hug each other a lot. We love each other a lot. We create together. We have tough conversations. We are doing the work of building each other up, of forming a better collective future, and I am honored to do that with them. I tell my students that one day, I’m going to be driving with my chin resting on the steering wheel of my beat-up car, without a tooth in my head, and it’s going to be their job to take care of me. I explain that my one-year-old daughter is going to depend on them to shape a better future for her. I tell them how I work hard in my job because I believe they deserve a future better than the one I myself now face.
Because the future that I now face, is that I cannot continue teaching in Virginia.
It isn’t the children. It bears repeating this again. It’s not the children. I have been in the classroom for eight years, five of those at Binford, and never once have I thought about quitting because of the kids.
It isn’t my administration. I firmly believe my principal to be the strongest administrator in our division. It isn’t the faculty. We are supportive, loving and kind to one another. Wherever I go, my friends and colleagues are there. Wherever there is need, my friends and colleagues envelop in loving support.
I am leaving Richmond Public Schools and the job I love because I cannot afford to stay. The emotional cost to make this decision has been devastating, but I don’t have a choice. Between Sisyphus-like student loans, steep hospital bills from having our baby last year, and an ever-increasing cost of living in the city, my husband and I cannot afford to remain in the Commonwealth.
My mother, who used to tell me teaching was the best job in the world, raised five kids on a teacher’s salary. Her mother raised six. My grandmother’s father brought up four kids as a principal. My family goes back seven generations in public education. If I stay a teacher in this state, I will be the first educator in my family not able to support her own.
Virginia is the eighth wealthiest state in the nation, and yet our teachers suffer under the single worst pay gap in the country. Our legislators have instituted the ninth worst budget cuts to education in the country. It is no secret that we are not funding our schools. The state of our buildings, our materials and the opportunities we are offering our young people are all well-documented and have been for years. The only secret is what it is going to take for our elected leaders to do something about it.
On January 28, teachers and public education supporters are marching on Richmond as the #RedforEd movement comes to Virginia with the campaign Virginia Educators United. Some teachers may be walking out for the day. For my family and thousands of other teachers before me, we are walking out for good. Not because we want to, but because we can no longer wait for our futures to be funded.
by Sarah Pedersen