I became a conservative after a year teaching 4th grade at a public school in the inner city. Before that, I probably would have said I was a liberal. I wasn’t really interested in politics, but all my friends were liberals, so I figured I must be one too.
When I got my teacher’s license, the first thing I did was go looking for the most challenging teaching situation I could find. I had just completed a two-year Masters program at a prestigious teaching school in New York City and was filled with idealism, determination, and a cocky conviction that I would succeed where so many others had failed. (Think Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds.)
I was a bit of a rarity — a young, well-educated, idealistic teacher who had come to this failing school of her own accord, not through some program like Teach for America, or the New York City Teaching Fellows. Unlike teachers who, through such programs, had gone straight from college to the classroom, I had a philosophy behind me, a method of teaching, knowledge about child development and how kids learn, and a year of assistant teaching under my belt.
But it was that education and knowledge, bumping up against a failing school system that did me in. When I quit after just one year and went to teach in a private school (a fact I’m not proud of, but which I know without a doubt maintained my sanity), I did it quietly, choosing not to list for the bureaucratic and incompetent principal all the things that were wrong with her school, and the public education system in general. I’m polite (and conflict-averse) so I went quietly. But I had seen enough to know that the system was failing, and I’d developed some pretty clear notions about why.