Just Ask

“I am second guessing my reason for being a teacher”~NYC Teacher

I am a second year ELA teacher. I believe in teaching the whole child not just teaching them skills and test taking strategies. In class we are covering the topic of euthanasia and I showed a video. My principal said that was not allowed. My job as an ELA teacher is only to focus on approved topics and readings.

We read, “Don’t go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas and I was told that because the poem is about death, I cannot cover it in class. My principal said my job description just covers teaching how to read and write better. I can’t cover topics about LGBTQ issues.

A student came to me crying and said she wanted to talk. I opened my door while we spoke. She sat across my desk from me and my principal said I should not have female students telling me their secrets. I duly reported to the AP what the student said. I was reprimanded. If they knew I was gay, I wonder if they would prevent me for listening to my male students.

As the months wear on, I am second-guessing my reason for being a teacher. I love teaching, but this is too much. Literature covers the entirety of human experience and as we experience more, so will literature expand. Through literature, I can teach tolerance. I can teach not just to be tolerant of others, but also teach a child to love themselves, whether gay, black, immigrant, thin, fat, etc. I can teach kindness and compassion, etc.
I don’t think I can deal with this anymore. This is my second school. My first school was horrible. I am left thinking that this is reality in the DOE. There must be a place where I fit in, but as the months go by I am left doubting that truth.


Dear NYC Teacher,

Being a relatively new teacher is hard and it sounds like you are in a particularly difficult and isolating situation. From my experience, not all DOE schools are the same although there are other teachers who have expressed similar feelings of not being able to engage in authentic, relevant teaching. You are not alone.

I applaud your willingness to take risks in your work and to share your situation publicly so that we can all learn through your experience. I am a firm believer that through literature we can teach tolerance, as you say, and that teaching the whole child is important.

I am wondering if you have identified a coach, or teacher in the school that you can talk to about your approach to curriculum and instruction. It sounds like there are areas that could use more exploration such as— what are the approved topics and readings for your grade and how were the literature selections decided? I know there is a lot of choice with the Common Core standards. It might be helpful to sit down with someone in order to identify the essential learning required so you can see if there are ways to include literature selections of your choice that are grade aligned, meaningful and relevant to you and your students.

If you are in a school where there is no choice in literature selections, perhaps you can work with a colleague on developing meaningful essential questions to drive your instruction. Through questions we can get at the deeper issues you may want to explore related to the whole child. Working with a colleague on this task will help you think about what it means when you say “whole child.” By working with a colleague, you can also check your own perspective and assumptions and more importantly, garner support for your goal to create a more holistic learning environment.

If you love teaching and this is your life’s purpose, you will continue trying new things and searching for the social, emotional and instructional support you are longing for. I hope you decide to stay the course.

Good luck!



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