The Depleted Tree, and Other Tales of Teaching.

There is a happy ending here, but we need to walk through the dark woods first.


Seth Nichol’s post on the Known blog, “Why Teachers Are Walking Out” resonated deeply.

Recently I provided my quick, impulsive insights on The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and why after years of varied, faceted perspectives I just don’t like it. (Note my hypocrisy, however, when I link to my Amazon affiliates page in hopes of earning some revenue so I can purchase books for my classroom.)

One friend made the heartfelt comment that the story is truly about unending resolve and love. And it is. My hardened heart, however, reads an allegorical woman giving everything until she is a stump. (And if she becomes anything like the tree stumps in my backyard, a nest of centipedes, pill bugs, carpenter ants, and rot continue to eat the underpinnings and roots.) Seth Nichol’s post is my bad Giving Tree. It’s about being used up, with little hope of replenishment.

Women comprise 75% of the teaching workforce, and 80% of all teachers are white.



……………….it took a man to write this article for it to go viral.

Not sure how I feel about the irony of that, but he does say what I have been reflecting and contemplating about for a while.

And women everywhere are feeling it. Clearly, we need more teachers of color and more men. We need balance. We need veterans and rookies. Younger and older. A representative biome of awesome. But it’s dang near impossible to do that if the trees keep getting chopped down.

Parts of my job I’ve described as an abusive relationship. For those who have been in actual abusive relationships my deepest apologies–my wordsmith talents cannot seem to find another analogy.  I have known women who have been in literal, abusive relationships. It’s heartbreaking, long-lasting damage impacts more than the couple or their children: every relationship from that circle feels the debris and detritus. (One of my saddest memories is of a Christmas where my aunt sat heartbroken without her own children, while I and my sisters still tried to do normal Christmas morning things.)

A Woman’s Honor

I’ve learned that a woman will do almost anything to prove she’s a good caretaker and nurturer.  The female honor code is, do it for the kids, no matter the cost.  Don’t ask questions or be perceived as disloyal to your children.

And, while each woman should be responsible for enforcing her own boundaries, we should not be systematically violating them, either.  I want the women of my world free to be fiercely loyal mothers and selfless givers, without some manipulative loser-of-a-school system taking advantage of her selflessness.

But we have an underfunded system who keeps pushing and stretching for every free woman-hour and donation it can get from those fiercely loyal mothers and their Boxtops.

The system, in many places, bears a creepy resemblance to an abusive husband.  If she loses “him” [her job], she feels like she would lose everything.  He constantly tells her she’s not good enough, and has spreadsheets with scores to prove it.  He blames her for the kids problems, and offers no real help in fixing them.   But she stays and puts up with him– because she loves the kids.

He is boxing her in, manipulating her, and implicitly calling her loyalty into question every time she doesn’t bend over backwards to appease him and make him look good.

Should we be surprised that she’s finally walking out?

Students suffer when teachers aren’t there for them. That does not mean ‘being there’ is spending every dime, and taking time away from our own care and care for our families. Being there means just that: present in the moment, planning, preparing and learning about who they are, so that with their parents, their families, their friends, they also have one more adult in their world who is promoting their success.

My husband has been telling me for years to consider teaching somewhere else. Whatever got in the way before, whatever excuse, I am now free, free to focus on what I love most: teaching students.

What are my salves, balms, and curatives?

  • Getting started and organized with #ProjectLit
  • Organizing books, binders, and backlogs of things
  • Sweeping nooks and corralling crannies
  • Celebrating my older son’s graduation with dual degrees from the University of Washington
  • Finishing up my ELL endorsement
  • Carving out time to write and create
  • Remembering happiness is a choice, but not to diminish time to heal

For further reading: