‘My Job, Like the Anaconda in My Dream, Is Consuming Me.’

Opinion | Education Workforce

‘My Job, Like the Anaconda in My Dream, Is Consuming Me.’

I had a nightmare that I was being squeezed to death by an anaconda. As a teacher, that’s how I feel every day.

By Lena Angel     Apr 5, 2024

‘My Job, Like the Anaconda in My Dream, Is Consuming Me.’

The original version of this essay was published on Medium.

I detest when people talk about their dreams. It’s similar to listening to a 4-year-old tell you about their day.

It takes more time than you have and never makes sense.

Most of the time, I don’t even remember my dreams. Except for the rare ones that connect to real life. These dreams stick; there’s a logical glue to them that provides insight.

For this reason, I’m compelled to tell you about a dream I had last week. As you may have inferred from the title, I was being slowly squeezed to death by an anaconda. I could feel its grip around my legs and waist as it worked its way up my body. My arms were still free, but it was only a matter of time before the snake wrapped around me completely.

Why an anaconda? I thought later. Was it the Instagram reel I watched of a group of people freeing a dog from one?

Perhaps, but I was struck by the familiarity of being physically and mentally overwhelmed. Sadly, this feeling has become my new normal as I navigate post-pandemic teaching. A recent conversation with a friend about my teaching woes ended with him saying, “Don’t let it consume you.” But I’m afraid it’s too late for that advice.

My job, like the anaconda in my dream, is consuming me.

What It Means to Teach in Texas in 2024

I teach in Texas where it seems like every day brings a new nightmare. The challenges teachers face are coming from a variety of forces from campus expectations to school district mandates to state legislature — and they’re coming from all parties, including parents, students, administrators, politicians and society at large.

These facets are all converging together against us, slowly pressing down against our will.

When I try to talk to people about the state of education, my thoughts become muddled as I try to briefly summarize complex funding models and complicated political strategies into a brief elevator pitch.

I imagine it’s similar to telling a story with an anaconda wrapped around your body. Since I’m snake free, I’ll do my best to describe it. Being a teacher in Texas in 2024 is finding out that your friends lost their jobs — leaving school districts without librarians when reading scores are declining.

It’s being afraid that your counselor friends are next — at a time when student mental health issues are increasing.

It’s struggling to maintain your students’ attention because you can’t compete with TikTok.

It’s being called a “groomer” for creating a learning environment where all students are welcome.

It’s discovering that some of your local school board members, who are supposed to support public education, are backed by political groups that want to destroy it.

It’s being told that teaching is a “calling,” and that you should be willing to give up your lunch break, planning period and weekends for it.

It’s learning that you won’t get a raise despite a $32 billion dollar surplus in the state budget.

It’s making less than you did ten years ago, due to inflation, but still having to buy tissues for your classroom.

It’s seeing kids fight in hallways and do drugs in the bathroom while adults focus on which books to ban from the library.

It’s telling your students to always speak up because their voice matters — while simultaneously being afraid to use your own.

It’s hearing people say, “Public schools are failing!” when you know the accountability system is rigged, and worrying that the purpose is to promote your governor’s school voucher scheme in an effort to defund public education.

Worst of all, it’s knowing that teachers will continue to leave the profession in droves unless people in our state prioritize education as a key issue and vote accordingly.

Educators Need Support to Create a Better System

Fortunately, I’m not actually being squeezed to death by an anaconda even though some days it feels like it. It feels like there are people out there who want me to stop using my voice. It feels like they want me to stop voting and stop encouraging others to vote. It feels like they want me to feel scared at work and at board meetings. It feels like they want me to give up.

I will not.

When I recall my anaconda dream, I remember that I could feel other hands on my arms pulling me out of its grip. When my dream ended, I felt frustrated, not defeated. It’s true that I am impatient as I wait to be compensated and respected at the level that all educators deserve. I am overwhelmed and sometimes exhausted from the fight.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to quit.

It does mean that, similar to my dream, I need help creating a better system — all public school employees do. We need society to realize that public education is facing a very real threat. Our predator is a well-funded political machine attempting to bring us to extinction.

We need society to care enough to listen; to get informed with facts, not misinformation; and to vote in the best interest of public schools and students.

Otherwise, I fear the system will swallow us whole.

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