A Not So Graceful Exit: Why I Left Teaching

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Yesterday, I quit.  In the middle of the school year, I quit.  After fourteen years in education, I quit.  I.  Quit.  Quitting isn’t something I do, particularly when children are involved, so this is still quite difficult to think or talk about.  It might seem an abrupt decision to some, but for those that know me well, you know this is something I have flirted with for a few years now.  I think it started about five years ago…

I was teaching in an inner-city school in Memphis.  I loved my principal.  I loved my kids.  I loved teaching.  Now, of course, there were issues.  Too much paperwork.  Not enough hours in the day.  Uninvolved parents.  Disobedient children.  District mandates that made no sense.  Still, overall, I was happy being a teacher.  I knew that I would either drop dead teaching or they would have to roll me out in a wheelchair.  It was what I wanted to do forever.  Then, the evaluation process for teachers dramatically changed.  Now, our students’ standardized test scores would become part of our evaluation. As I saw this change coming, I decided that I could help this process along by taking more of a teacher leader role.  So, I applied and became the instructional facilitator for the school where I had taught for the past 6 years.  In this role, I hoped to coach, mentor, and support teachers.  After all, that was a large part of that job description.  In reality, very little of my time was able to be spent doing that.  What did take up a large amount of my time was being my school’s test administrator.  I had experience with testing and the strict guidelines that go along with them, as all teachers do.  However, as test administrator, I was now responsible for reporting my teachers if they did not follow those guidelines.  The stress and worry of that prospect was just too much for me.  I had become an enforcer of a practice I didn’t even believe in.  I couldn’t do this to my teachers, so I left the position after two years and went back to the classroom.

I decided to try a different setting.  Middle school math.  My first year back in the classroom was blissful.  I loved my co-workers.  I loved the diversity of the school.  I loved teaching one subject all day.  Then, we started testing.  And the testing was even more frequent last year.  And now, three months into the school year, I’m certain we have tested more so far than we did all last year combined.

So, I quit.  I’m not going to be the messenger that tells my students that they have to take another test.  I am not going to spend another class period telling them I cannot help them get through a test they don’t understand.  They can get someone else to do that.  It will kill my teaching soul to do it even one more time.  Like all teachers, I have kids that read below grade level.  I can’t help them though.  I also have students that have only been in the country a few months.  I can’t help them though.  I even have students who don’t know our alphabet because their language is different than ours.  I can’t help them though.  And bless their hearts, they do it because I ask them to.  Most of them would do absolutely anything I asked.  They trust me and believe that what I am asking them to do is what is best for them.  I mean that’s why I spent weeks building connections with them at the beginning of the year.  I want them to trust me.  I rarely have discipline issues.  We are too busy and engaged in the lesson to get off task.  However, after testing kids for two weeks straight, they were done.  You cannot expect struggling students to engage in an activity that is so above their instructional level for an extended amount of time without eventually seeing their behavior change.  It is too frustrating for them!  I could tell that those two weeks broke the bond that I had built with some of my most challenging students.  They just didn’t trust me anymore.  That goes against every single thing inside me that led me to become a teacher in the first place.  And to be quite honest, it broke my heart.  I recently saw a post where someone described teaching as an abusive relationship.  You love it, but it makes you so unhappy.  I get that.  It does feel that way.

So, I quit.  I wrote a resignation letter giving my 30-day notice and gave it to my principal on a Monday morning.  I told him, both of my assistant principals, and my instructional facilitator that day.  With each time I told my story, I cried.  They didn’t try to stop me.  They didn’t make me feel guilty.  They were kind and understanding.  They know.  I’m sure they feel like quitting sometimes, too.  They aren’t the problem.  I slowly told my co-workers, friends, and family.  Everyone that knows me well said to do it.  Every single educator said they understood and would do it too if they could.  Every.  Single.  One.  I’m not married.  I don’t have kids.  I don’t have a mortgage.  I don’t have a car note.  I have more freedom to do this than most.  Because of that, I can’t be quiet about this.  I need to speak for those that don’t have the option to bow out.

My first step was sending the following letter home to all my students’ parents:

November 24, 2015

Dear Parents,

I regret to inform you that today is my last day as your child’s math teacher at #####.  I want you to know that this decision was not easy for me.  I will fill you in on why I am leaving, but first I will tell you what absolutely did not have anything to do with me leaving.  First, your children are not why I’m leaving education.  They are, in fact, the only reason I have any apprehension about this decision.  This, of course, will be most difficult for them.  I have talked to them about this and they handled it like rock stars, but please talk to them about it when they get home.  Adult decisions are often hard for anyone to understand, especially children.  Secondly, the administration at ##### is not why I am leaving.  I have felt nothing but supported by my administrative staff this school year.  I believe they have the best interest of your children in mind.  If I was going to teach anywhere, it would absolutely be at #####.  Finally, the teachers at ##### are not why I am leaving.  I have worked with many teachers over the past 15 years.  The teachers at ##### are some of the best I have ever seen.  In a profession where you are often blamed more than revered, I admire their willingness to keep waking up each day and choosing to keep going for their students.  Please continue to support the teachers at #####.  They need it, but more importantly, they deserve it.

Now…here is why I am leaving.  For the past five years, I have seen the testing of our students become more frequent and more frustrating for all those involved.  I absolutely hate having to stand before my kids and tell them they have to take another test.  It kills a little bit of my teaching soul each time I have to do it.  I spend so much time having to test them that I have little time to teach them, much less listen and talk to them.  So far this year, I have given my students the following tests: iStation Diagnostic (this will be given twice more this year), iReady Diagnostic (this will be given twice more this year), MAP Test (given in ELA, Math and Science), and the MIST test (given in ELA, Math, and SS).  These are just the tests that are mandated by the district or state.  We also give pre- and post-Common Formative Assessments at the school level.  Why all the testing these days?  The following is a post I saw online that explains it perfectly.  I’m not sure who posted it originally, so I am unable to give credit.  “The feds require annual testing for accountability. This translates into the BIG test that every state has (In Tennessee this is what we refer to as TCAP, now TNReady…more about that later).  However, the stakes are so high for that test, that states require additional “practice” tests.  But, the results of the state tests are used to threaten districts that are “failing”.  So the districts require “benchmark” tests, to make sure the students are ready for practice tests.  Individual schools and administrators are held accountable for their scores on the benchmarks, so they also impose building-level tests.  The result is non-stop testing.”

Back to TNReady.  This is the new state test that students will be taking this year in place of TCAP.  TNReady is a computer-based test and will be given in February and April.  Because it is taken on the computer, testing schedules will disrupt our regular schedule more than just a week like we were accustomed to under TCAP.  If that isn’t bad enough, the test is just down-right confusing.  You can read a blog post about it and take some practice questions here: http://www.mommabears.org/blog/alarming-info-about-tnready-testing-bomb.  Additionally, the blog post by State Representative Andy Holt shows you exactly how this is being handled by those in power in Tennessee: http://www.andyholt4tn.com/holt-what-tn-teachers-parents-should-know-about-standardized-tests/.  I urge you to become familiar with what is going on in education and make your voice heard about what is best for your child.  You can do this by contacting your school board members, representatives and senator.  And vote every single time.  It does make a difference.

So, back to my leaving.  I have to try to fight this somehow.  I’m not sure how I will go about that yet.  I guess this is my first step.  I do know that I can no longer be the messenger of something that I believe is harmful to my students.  That is exactly the opposite of why I became a teacher in the first place.  I am meant to help, support, empower, and praise children.  Under this current testing culture, I am simply helping to hurt them and that just isn’t who I am.

In closing, I am going to miss my kids so much.  I can barely think of it without crying.  However, I hope they eventually look back at this time and realize that I stood up for something I believed in even though it was a very, very difficult choice.  When they are faced with standing up for something they believe is wrong, I hope they are strong enough to do so.  It isn’t easy, but I think we all need a little more of that in our world.

My next step?  Not sure yet.  I do know that it is a disgrace that we are allowing companies from the testing industry to make millions of dollars off the abuse of our public education system.  Not only are we killing the spirits of students who want to learn, but we are also killing the spirits of teachers that want to make a life-long career of this.  I’m not the first one to give up and I certainly won’t be the last.  In 10-20 years, we are going to look back at this time in education and be very ashamed of what we have allowed to happen.

Finally, please hope and pray that my kids get a qualified teacher quickly. One that isn’t jaded by the system, that loves them in spite of their challenges, and has the strength to withstand the foolishness that educators endure.  I couldn’t be that for them anymore and the grief that causes me is suffocating at times.  I will miss them every day.  This quote helps when the feelings become overwhelming, “Be OK with not knowing for sure what might come next, but know that whatever it is…you will be OK”.   

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