*Disclaimer: The account you are about to read should in no way reflect upon my former fellow teachers. The fact that they remain where they are despite knowing the truth of what I will describe should not be taken to mean that they tolerate or approve of the issues. Compassion should be extended to them as they endure factors that require them to remain, when they wish they could join me in departing. Finally, I attempted to reconcile with the parties at fault, but to no avail. I only record here a general account of the issues and will not name names or specifics.*
I have struggled a great deal as to what, if anything, should be said about the chief reason I departed my teaching career. A great battle has been waged in my mind because I fear that in revealing the nature of the most pressing facet, I will in turn cause injury to innocent parties. My most ardent wish is that the issues I faced be seen for what they are and that those who are co-laborers under such realities will be given compassion, understanding, and grace. The challenges of the system do not always lie with teachers, but most often with those who rule over the system.
I have written and rewritten this post while struggling to find the line of what I wish to say and that which is appropriate to say. Part of me wishes to write an expose and have my day of setting the record straight, yet the other side of me raises flags of caution against such an approach. As much as I wish I could vindicate myself and “stick it to the man,” I believe that such a posture would actually work against me. Further, I am convinced that in sharing specifics about this final facet would not actually change anything for those it should impact; more likely it would cause increased grief for my former fellow teachers.
What follows is my attempt to set before you the final, and chief facet of my departure from teaching while remaining appropriately vague.
As a child, I remember countless classroom posters encouraging each student to always stand for truth and righteousness, even if it meant standing alone. In the world of a child, it is difficult to grasp the impact such a stance may instigate. Further, it is easy to pay lip service to the sentiment without seriously considering the cost that a right and true stand may require.
Unfortunately, the sentiment may be given no further thought once adult life is entered and it is found that situations are usually far more grey than they are black and white. A host of mitigating factors, responses, outcomes, and consequences often cloud over what we deem should be a straight forward response. Sometimes this means that we choose to “put-up and shut-up,” keeping our heads low, and ensuring the security of our position rather than correcting a problem. Other times, remaining silent is the only option as the problem works itself out. We admire whistle-blowers but we would often choose not to be them should the opportunity come.
During my last two years as a teacher, rifts started to appear between the administration and I. At first it stemmed from the fact that I was continually assigned to positions I was not qualified for and blocked from positions I was clearly qualified for. Despite the difficulties of continually facing foreign worlds, I would buckle up and do my utmost to be successful. As Roger Miller put it, “you can’t roller-skate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you’ve a mind to; all you gotta do is put your mind to it, knuckle down, buckle down, and do it, do it, do it.” That’s exactly what I did. I sought to teach my students hands on skills by embarking on a tiny house build, constructing an eight foot wind tunnel for them to experiment with aerodynamics, conducting live experiments with steam engines, teaching cooking skills with raw ingredients, not out-of-the-box “food,” and spending my own money to achieve the most interactive and engaging methods of learning I could uncover.
Within the last few years, a host of articles have been written regarding the high turnover rate for new teachers; over half leave after the first year. Many new teachers do not last after 3-5 years. Why? Sometimes due to layoffs as schools continue the age-old battle of funding. However, many are due to any of the following, or a combination of, three common groups: administration, parents, and students. I count it no small juxtaposition that the very things that provide the environment for teaching are the same things which cause the stress.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the relationship between teachers, students, and parents have changed over the last half-century. I do not wish to dive into an analysis of the change in student behavior or parenting tactics, as these were not the root of my issue. My students were a true joy; the parents were incredibly supportive and patient.
As many teachers who read this will no doubt silently nod, the administration of a school is the single most stress-inducing aspect of teaching. Not only do many teachers hold themselves to a high standard, but with the pressure of the administration regarding SAT scores, parent relations, student performance, classroom discipline, ISPs, differentiated instruction, course material, course pace, homework, tests, classroom newsletters, grade card deadlines, parent teacher conference tactics, No Child Left Behind, Common Core….you get the idea….teachers many times feel as though a noose is perpetually around their necks. Topple one spinning plate and off to the scaffolds.
Certainly, education is a high calling and one requiring a high standard. However, many times the interference of the administration muddies the water and detrimentally complicates the teaching craft. In my own personal experience, the administrative issues continually placed me in situations where my integrity as a teacher and my craft suffered. At one point, I was given two students in the same time slot (one aged 9 and the other aged 17) in two different therapy programs and told I needed to make it work. When it didn’t, I was the scapegoat for the administration and the parent lost respect for me. Further, I saw my planning periods disappear numerous times. (Without time to adequately plan, my students will invariably suffer.) These two issues were only portions of a much larger trend of mismanagement; other events which took place are too inflammatory and will not be listed.
As the final year came to a close, a shift in tactics regarding my department became apparent. There had always been a tension between admitting students who needed services and the cost of our therapy program. (Embarking on the tiny house was a means to establish a scholarship fund to alleviate that burden for our families). However, it became increasingly clear that teacher schedules and program effectiveness were taking a backseat to the bottom line, as if our families and students were merely means to a beautiful budget. The boiling pot climaxed and a series of nasty politics commenced.
I am outspoken about my abhorrence of workplace politics. To me it is absolutely reprehensible to soft pedal issues that need to be addressed or to be only partially honest with individuals in order to achieve a desired end. Nothing chaps my hide faster than convenient politically correct behavior. Perhaps (even, most likely) to my own detriment, I buck against such tactics every time.
Attempts to reconcile only seemed to clarify that I was not misunderstanding the situation. Accordingly, when I was faced with corrupt actions and increasingly pressured to step back, I began looking for other work (chiefly, at other schools). Yet, I found a barren land. So, I moved on.
Whether you deem my abandonment necessary or questionable, I walked away with a relieved conscience. I believe that my actions were made necessary and that staying was more costly than leaving. It may seem cliché to claim integrity as a motive for moving on, but it is no less true. If the system wouldn’t correct, I couldn’t continue to be a part. In my mind, it was that simple and exceedingly difficult all at the same time. Not a day goes by that my students and the lessons and experiments we enjoyed don’t come to mind. If I could ever return as their teacher, I would not hesitate to say yes.
One last word before signing off. You may not be in tune with the pressures your child’s teacher may be facing every day they show up to teach. Before concluding that someone is a bad teacher, please consider that their backs may be against the wall and they may very well have been placed in a personal no-win situation but they consider your child’s success a supreme reward for their hardship.
From the desk, in Hopkinsville, KY,