Opinion: I’ve taught in Berkeley schools for 12 years. Here’s why I’m leaving

There’s so much I’ll miss about teaching in Berkeley. But the truth is I can’t afford to live here.

I love teaching in Berkeley. I have been teaching here for 12 years. I have won a teaching award, seen King Middle School voted one of the 25 coolest schools in the country, and run a number of clubs and school events. I consider myself very lucky being a King and Berkeley Public school teacher. I love the students. They are unique, inquisitive, bright, caring, silly, kind, and it is a joy to find ways of challenging them and meeting all of their needs.

Sadly, I will be moving on next year.

It is not because my classroom breaks a hundred degrees 10 to 15 days a year. It is not because we have had four major curriculum changes in two years and none of them were ever tested to determine if these changes were effective. It is not because I believe teachers are not robots being programmed and need the freedom to teach to the students in a manner that fits them.

The reason I am moving on is because my rent has gone up almost $800 in four years and will continue to go up for the foreseeable future. The insulting raises the district has deigned to give us barely cover the increase in insurance for families, let alone rent.

I am not like other teachers. I am not married. I do not have a house nor will I ever be able to afford one in this area, nor will I inherit a house. I did not have a previous career that allowed me to become established before becoming a teacher. I am not willing to have multiple roommates (especially when raising kids on my own) and I am tired of working multiple jobs.

Many teachers are commuting long hours or working multiple jobs, but this cuts down on field trips and assignments that are difficult to grade, but give me a great deal of insight into the students and their skills. Long commutes or working multiple jobs cut down on clubs I can run, student activities I can go to, depth of grading, and time spent lesson planning. It also cuts down on time with my kids, time to try and lose weight, time to have a social life.

I am not the only one. One of the best special ed teachers I have seen refuses to take a permanent job here, because she can’t see starting a family on a BUSD’s teacher salary.

I will miss King. I will miss Berkeley. I will desperately miss the students, past and present. I desperately wish I could afford to teach here.

Steve Conley teaches at King Middle School. He has taught in BUSD for 12 years.

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