One benefit of Facebook—besides secretly stalking people you used to know, of course—is the other internet material you get to see thanks to all the sharing your friends do. And since I taught high school for thirty-three years, many of my friends are or were teachers. So I regularly see posts about teaching (and I hope that my essays get shared with millions…hundreds…okay, at least a couple of others as well). Many of the articles are thought-provoking, interesting, and funny; but there is one category that needs to stop getting shared: The “I’m disillusioned with how the system treats me, so I’m going to quit teaching” articles really get on my nerves.
Right off the bat, I’ll admit that much of the complaining that these soon-to-be-ex-teachers do has merit. Misguided mandates constantly arrive from the federal government on how or what to teach, stupid standardized tests imposed by the state fill way too many class periods, and putrid procedures rain down from administrators who seem to think teachers don’t have enough to do. The grind of paperwork, grading student assignments, and keeping up with recording everything that needs to be documented would frustrate the most dedicated clerical worker. Having your judgment challenged, your requirements undermined, and your requests ignored by permissive parents drives many teachers over the edge. And that’s not even bringing up those students who occasionally exhibit disrespect, poor work habits, and indifference. There are plenty of negative things about teaching that do wear down even the most dedicated educators.
Then there’s the public perception of teachers, which has definitely taken a hit in the last few years. Often, this criticism gets shrouded in attacks on teachers’ unions which are purportedly protecting countless incompetent educators from their deserved dismissal. Yet, teachers’ unions are largely composed of—that’s right—teachers, so ripping on unions only slightly veils the general dissatisfaction with those in front of the classrooms. As I’ve discussed elsewhere (See http://www.snowflake-schools.com/ for much more on this), everyone is an expert on teachers since we all sat through their classes for at least twelve years. But this supposed expertise is groundless since the only way to know what it’s like to do a job is to DO THE JOB. Kibitzing from the sidelines clearly makes many people happy and fills countless comments sections on virtually every website, but rarely adds more than partial truths based solely on abstract concepts rather than actual experience. When I taught, I would bristle at outsiders who would claim to know better than I how to teach my classes. So I understand that teachers get fed up with how they are portrayed these days in the media and how the public characterizes them. From Waiting for Superman to Scott Walker to the Common Core to Michelle Rhee, there are plenty in the news who are quick to offer answers to public education’s woes, mostly at the expense of teacher autonomy and often, dignity. (See “Teachers Should Be Worshipped” for a more specific analysis of this issue.)
So despite the validity of these essay’s complaints, what gets me about these “I’m quitting” articles is the smug pomposity in which these educational saints cloak themselves. I understand why they’re upset; it’s their reaction to the negatives of their job that pisses me off. For my thirty-three years as a teacher, the majority of teachers I knew worked hard to make things better, fighting the lunacy while teaching the kids. Of course we regularly bitched about the dumb, bad, and insane things that we were told to do by those outside the classroom. Sure, we got mad when people ignorant of what teaching entails took potshots at us. And often we were embarrassed by the lazy, odd, and/or inappropriate things that some of our colleagues did. There were definitely days when we felt like we were losing the battle.
But come the next day, we were back in there, trying our best to educate despite all the distractions and inanity. We were bloodied but unbowed in our mission to give kids the opportunity to learn—bureaucrats be damned—and we were proud that we regularly overcame the odds and imparted a little knowledge. Naturally, we failed pretty regularly too, and there were many times we too felt like the system was too large, unfeeling, and obtuse for us ever to make much of a difference. We realized, however, that despite the necessary compromises everyone has to make in our less-than-ideal world, teaching mattered and we were having a positive impact on our students. Some of us—typically through our unions—would strive to fight the bureaucratic mindlessness to improve things for teachers. And believe it or not, making working conditions better for teachers goes a long way to improving schools as well; something these quitters don’t hang on long enough to discover. It’s not surprising that virtually all of these “I’m Done with This Horrible System” essays portray the narrators as isolated idealists since they haven’t worked long enough to understand the benefits and strength that come from interacting, sharing, and working with your colleagues.
Instead, the “I’m Quitting” folks give off the stench of self-righteousness and superiority. “My morals are just too good to have to sully myself by altering the perfection that is I to do the job the way those corrupt (administrators, test makers, politicians, parents, and/or the Koch brothers) want me to. Rather than whore myself like those other teachers do, I’m getting out of here before some of their satanic compromising splashes on my purity. Oh, it’s just so tragic that this heinous system has lost someone as wonderful as me!” Their essays are filled with anecdotes which illustrate how awesome their teaching skills are, despite the evil ones’ interference. Occasionally a veteran teacher who has been beaten down by the system, in the expert writer’s opinion (based on his/her three years’ experience), will put in an appearance, showing how important it is for our hero to leave before she/he winds up like this wizened, cynical scrap of a human being. How could this poor excuse of an educator (especially when compared to our sainted quitter) live with him/herself after all those years in such a horrible, spirit-crushing environment?
On behalf of those scraps, if you are one of those heroic, downtrodden teachers about to leave, just go without telling us why your ideals and flawlessness couldn’t flower in the cesspool that is public education. Your teaching colleagues, who will continue to toil to make things better, have too much important work to do to listen to your self-indulgent whining.
For ways to make public schools better (besides just leaving), teachers and anyone concerned should see http://www.snowflake-schools.com/.