I made a promise to my former English teacher at North Hollywood High School at her retirement party. I promised Ms. Sweeny that I would be what she was for me to at least one other kid.

Ms. Sweeny was my advocate and my champion. When a college counselor told me I was wasting my time applying to NYU, Ms. Sweeny paid for my application. When my father did not want me to study the arts, Ms. Sweeney helped me pursue my passions.

I vowed to Ms. Sweeney that if it took 30 more years in this profession for me to be that mentor to another child, then it would take 30 more years. But I’m not sure I have any more years left to give.

I am not alone. More than 50% of educators nationwide are considering leaving the profession. Teacher shortages are nothing new, but they have been amplified by the pandemic.

I want to remember why I fell in love with teaching. I want to experience joy and critical hope when I show up in our classroom every day. I want safe spaces where I can thrive and continue to grow in my profession. I want to be treated with respect for the knowledge and the expertise I have spent years to build—in college and graduate school, and in the classroom as a reflective practitioner. Like so many of us, I have racked up mounds of student debt over the years to build that expertise. This is a weight that gets heavier to carry.

I want my father to be able to retire. At a young age, I accepted it would one day be my responsibility to care for my father as he ages. Even though my father does not support my family financially, I feel like he continues to work—despite an on-the-job injury—because he can’t relax until he sees me settled into a home of my own. But here in my hometown, on an educator’s salary, home ownership is out of reach.

We don’t have to be teachers—that’s what so many people forget. I had a career before the classroom in theatre production; I’m an author and speaker. I have options. But where I want to be is with young people in my community. What I get to do every day can potentially transform other industries and in so doing create the change that I want to see in the world; I can help create the world my daughter deserves to grow up in.

Our Beyond Recovery platform is driving hope.

What if we created safe spaces where young folks were really able to speak truth to power and voice their concerns in the most productive, creative, beautiful, and artistic of ways?

What if we lowered class sizes, so teachers and students can get to know one another and work more closely together? What if schools implemented real Restorative Justice, with properly trained folx on campus to assist with this transformative model?

What would it look like if our schools across our city and our district were able to prioritize mental health supports?

And whenever we talk about mental health, there’s one support that we often forget, and that’s the arts. It is about time that arts were fully funded, and I mean all of the arts — from theatre to dance to music, eSports, video game design, animation and culinary arts. It all matters, and students need access to all of it, especially right now as our communities try to bounce back from this pandemic. Art, no matter the medium, has the power to heal. Healing is what we all need in our school communities.

As educators, we’ve been aching for these changes for a very long time. We’ve been putting Band-Aids on things one after the other, expecting something to change. The pandemic illuminated all of those systems, structures, policies, and practices that never worked for our students in the first place — especially students with special needs, students of color, and those living in poverty.

In theatre, there’s a concept we teach called the “Magic What If.” When we teach this concept, we push our students to use their active imaginations and dream up entirely new worlds, characters, and themes. I’m asking all of us to do the same thing: use our active imaginations to freedom dream. Envision our future as we collectively commit to get Beyond Recovery and prioritize a quality, equitable education for all students.

Owoimaha-Church is founder and director of Education Ensemble, a non-profit launched at the top of the pandemic to allow youth a brave space to create theatre that mattered to them without censorship. She is a 2018 recipient of the California Teachers Association’s Human Rights & Equity prize for Peace & Justice, a 2017 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, the lead educator ambassador for equity with the Education Civil Rights Alliance convened by the Center for Youth Law, and contributing author to “Flip the System US: How Teachers Can Transform Education and Save Democracy.”