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A Teacher Tells Why She’s Quitting

Veteran Educator Says Many Trends Are Hampering Educators

How hard is teaching?

Here’s one answer to that question from an e-mail by a veteran seventh-grade language arts teacher in Frederick, Md., who says she is quitting because of what she considers students who don’t work, parents who want their children to have high grades no matter what, mindless curriculum and school reformers who insist on trying to quantify things that can’t be measured. The teacher asked not to be identified because she fears retaliation at her school.

The following are excerpts of a longer piece, which you can find online at wapo.st/iwouldlovetoteachbut:

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It is with a heavy, frustrated heart that I announce the end of my personal career in education, disappointed and resigned because I believe in learning. ... I worked hard to earn the title of “classroom teacher,” but I became quickly disillusioned when my title of teacher did not in any way reflect my actual job. ... When I was in middle school, I studied Shakespeare, Chaucer, Poe, Twain, O. Henry — the founding fathers, if you will, of modern literary culture. Now, I was called to drag them through shallow activities that measured meaningless but “measurable” objectives. ... I resigned myself to the superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity. I decided that if I was going to teach this nonsense, I was at least going to teach it well. I set my expectations high, I kept my classroom structured, I tutored students, I provided extra practice and I tried to make class fun. .... I quickly rose through the ranks of “favorite teacher,” kept open communication channels with parents and had many students with solid A’s.

It was about this time that I was called down to the principal’s office. ... She handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. At the time, I only had about 120 students, so I was relatively on par with a standard bell curve. As she brought up each one, I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work — a lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further. Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education:

“They are not allowed to fail.”

“If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.”

What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers, I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them, I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time, I was not excusing their lack of discipline. ...Teachers are held to impossible standards, and students are accountable for hardly any part of their own education and are incapable of failing. ... I was constantly prodded both inside the classroom and out by condescending remarks like, “It must be nice to have all that time off.” Time off? Did they mean the five or less hours of sleep I got each night between bouts of grading and planning?

Did they mean the hours I spent checking my hundreds of e-mails, having to justify myself to parents, bosses and random members of the community at large? Did they mean the time I missed with my family because I had to get all 150 of these essays graded and the data entered into a meaningless table to be analyzed for further instruction and evidence of my own worth? Did they mean the nine months of 80-hour work weeks, 40 of which were unpaid overtime weekly, only to be forced into a two-month, unpaid furlough during which I’m demeaned by the cashier at Staples for “all that time off?” ...

I got a new administrator who preached high standards and accountability, and I decided to try to hold my students to a standard once again. Combined with a brand-new curriculum that I had to learn basically overnight, I took the chance to set the bar high, especially when it came to the gifted and talented program. I was now teaching these “highly able learners,” and all of the training I received told me to challenge them, push them, take a step back in order to “tap the genius inside our schools.” So, I did. I created an intense environment that required students’ best work. I created opportunities for students to rise to the challenge. I provided choice and tapped creativity. And I required that students take ownership of their work and be proud of genuine effort. I felt like a “good teacher.” . . .

But I was lambasted by parents as being ineffective because a child had a B or a C. “S/he has always been an A student,” they screamed at me during frequent meetings. “How dare you give them a B?” Give them? Give them? ...

My job is to be debased by an inescapable environment of distrust which insists that teachers cannot be permitted to create and administer their own tests and quizzes, now called “assessments,” or grade their own students’ work appropriately. .... In a world where I am constantly instructed to “differentiate” my methods, I am condemned for using different resources than those provided, because if I do, we are unable to share “data” with the county and the nation at large. ...

Originality, experimentation, academic liberty, teacher autonomy and origination are being strangled in ill-advised efforts to “fix” things that were never broken. If I must prove my worth and my students’ learning through the provision of a measurable set of objectives, then I have taught them nothing, because things of value cannot be measured. Inventiveness, inquisitiveness, attitude, work ethic, passion, these things cannot be quantified to a meager data point in an endless table of scrutiny. ...

I sample educator Kris Nielsen when I say:

I would love to teach, but, as he said in his own 2012 resignation letter from a North Carolina school system, “I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.” ...

I would love to teach, but, as Nielsen wrote: “I refuse to subject students to every ridiculous standardized test that the state and/or district thinks is important.” ... I quit because I’m tired of being part of the problem. ... Could I be part of the solution? Of course. But no one ever asks the teachers, those who are up to their necks in the trenches each day, or if they do, it is in a patronizing way and our suggestions are readily discarded. Decisions about classrooms should be made in classrooms. Teachers are the most qualified individuals to determine what is needed for their own students. Each classroom is different. It has a different chemistry, different dynamic, different demographic, and the teacher is the one who keeps the balance. He or she knows each student, knows what they need, and they should be the ones making the decisions about how to best reach them.