Let’s retire the “why I’m leaving teaching” posts forever

As my former pastor used to say, “I’m an equal opportunity offender.” Get ready, because it’s about to be a bumpy ride as I set out not to offend, but to plead with my fellow teachers to please, please get off the “life sucks being a teacher” bandwagon.

It’s everywhere. I see it on Facebook almost daily. On Twitter. Forwarded in emails. Diatribe after bullet point after screaming headline that bemoans the state of education, lists the many ways in which teachers are fighting a losing battle, and worst of all, tells young adults who are considering teaching to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. Don’t think I don’t get it. After almost two decades in education, I know all about it. But I’m not going to scream it from the rooftops, and I’m about to tell you why. All I ask is that after you get mad at me, you take a breath and just think about this.

You’re not frustrated because of low pay, unruly kids, uninformed government decisions, and discursive meetings. Okay, you are, but that’s not what really gets under your skin. What bothers you is that you love what you do, and other people keep making it harder to do what you love doing. Period. Now that we’ve identified the problem, allow me to make some humble suggestions. As someone who’s been a happy teacher my entire career, let me tell you how you’re hurting yourself and making your job harder than it has to be.

1. When you share angry teacher letters, highlights about the myriad problems in education, and yet another blog on why a great teacher has decided to leave the classroom, you merely perpetuate the problem. You feed into the talk about town that teaching sucks. You agree with it, publicly, to everyone who knows you. You spread the word that teaching is a horrible career and those who are considering it must be deluded. You keep promising college students from following their calling by sounding the trumpets that their calling is garbage.

2. This demeans our profession and you as a teacher. You create the very problem you are fighting. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like a professional, not a petulant child. Furthermore, you are announcing to the world that you don’t like your job. And seeing as your clients are innocent kids and parents who are entrusting their prized possessions to your care, that’s not such a great message to send out into the universe. If you want everyone to respect you, have enough respect for yourself to stand up for your profession.

3. You make yourself a victim of bureaucracy and idiocy. There is plenty of that in education, and to a certain extent, you must play along. But you have a certain amount of autonomy in your classroom. You are free to love your kids and teach them to love learning. Your hands aren’t tied. Regardless of what test kids need to pass or what new math methods come around the corner, you still get to teach and watch light dawn on growing minds. You get to be responsible for that and take some credit for it. You are not a victim.

4. Anyone can point out what is wrong, but if you really care, do something about it. Get involved in your community and in local politics, vote for the right people, lobby, speak out. Take on a leadership position that allows you to effect change. Do any of the things you are free to do as American citizens, whatever might be in your comfort zone, but do something. It’s hard to respect someone who moans and groans their way through their career. You have a choice to embrace it or to denigrate it. Your call. Your consequences.

5. If you are really, truly unhappy being a teacher, please, for the love of all things holy, quit. No child deserves to have a teacher who doesn’t want to be there. Children should not be surrounded by bitterness and frustration when all they want to do is learn. If you’re unhappy with your current situation, change it. You owe it to yourself and to all of your students.

If you know me, you know I’m not some “pie in the sky” teacher who is naive to the problems in education. But as far as my students know, I love coming to school every day, I’m excited about what I teach, and I have a passion for my subject. It’s not put on, not fake, not a big show. I just happen to believe that teachers should be proud to be teachers, that they should laugh with their students every day, they should care enough about them to give them everything they have, and  they should leave school knowing that no one, anywhere, kept them from teaching their kids.

When my daughter graduated from college and got her first teaching job, it was one of my most proud moments as a parent and a teacher. But it doesn’t hold a candle to seeing her face as she tells me stories about her students, falls into bed after an insanely busy day, and exuberantly reads her kids’ test scores (from the very standardized test she is opposed to) as she discovers that she taught them, really taught them. Ask my daughter’s students if she was deluded for going into education. For that matter, teachers, ask your own students. Their answers may get you to drop the negativity once and for all.

Senior retreat 4

Know your students, teach them, love them. What happens next in education is up to you.

21 thoughts on “Let’s retire the “why I’m leaving teaching” posts forever

  1. I think that most are trying to share their experience in hopes that a critical mass of concern and understanding is achieved. If you don’t share the problem with the public, then they remain unaware. Instead of saying that it shouldn’t be done, let’s agree that it should be done better, with objections like your in mind.

    And I hope you think that I left for a good reason!

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    • You left for a great reason that will only make you better at what you do. I grapple with the awareness angle. Is it really drawing attention that is productive or is it teachers commiserating with teachers? I support commiseration; I’m just not keen on public commiseration that people outside the profession will never understand.

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      • I hear you. But when good teachers leave, there is always a question of ‘why?’ At their best these lamentations (for lack of a better word) seek to answer the question which is already out there. If you quit, I’d want to know why. I would even want you to make it public in order to help bring awareness to some of the ways in which teaching is dehumanizing… and we both know that it has nothing to do with the kids. I love my kids. But the machine is in need of some repair even in Christian education.

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  2. You’re such an inspiration! As a former student of yours, I can attest that a happy teacher makes a difference. Your class was always a joy even if I didn’t want to do something or thought it didn’t matter. Now, as an adult who reads your blog and spends a lot of time with teenagers, I get it. It can be frustrating, but also so, so rewarding; and at moments when you least expect it.

    I think your points above are great for teachers, and also anyone who who is frustrated with his or her current professional state. If you really, truly hate it, get out – don’t drag everyone down with you!

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    • Thanks, Lauren. You’re right about people of all professions having a good attitude. I actually thought about some other professions where there could be a lot of vocal complaining about changes that tie people’s hands (doctors) or bureaucracy (any government job), and I can’t remember seeing a single “this job sucks” meme, letter, or whatever on Facebook about it. Everyone could take the stand that their job stinks for any number of reasons. You have to choose to love your job, whatever it may be.

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  3. Oh Deurlein, you speak the truth once again and so eloquently. I think part of what makes teaching so rewarding is that it IS hard work and that no matter what ridiculous bureaucratic thing comes our way, teachers, really good teachers, still make it a point to press on with their curriculum while adding the ridiculousness right along with it. I’ve only been teaching for 8 years, and I can’t even count the number of changes that have come along. The thing is, you either roll with the punches or you get knocked out of the fight altogether. Like you and others, I choose, every day, to roll.

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  4. I have to outline a different situation. My wife and I and every other teacher over the age of 50 in our building were targeted for bullying by the principal and his mob, including other colleagues. While it is really easy to just say, “So?” you must understand that the stress of being bullied can create psychological and physiological issues that cannot healthfully be ignored. Loss of sleep, increased blood pressure and heart rate, stomach ulcers, hyper-sensitivity to “normal” stimuli to name a few. Until adult bullying is identified as an “unprofessional practice” and accompanied by loss of certification for those who abuse their colleagues (and provide a poor model for our students), we will discourage the young people with whom we talk from entering the profession. Bullying is not something that we want anyone, much less the loving and caring people who tend to become teachers, to be exposed to. That, of course, on top of people who don’t know anything about teaching (or who were not successful teachers) being in a position of authority.

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  5. I think people need to know why teachers are retiring early or quitting. Retired teachers and those who have quit are the only ones able to truly explain what’s going on in the schools today with all the stupid evaluations, curricula, testing, non-tolerance, bullying, non-accommodations for special ed kids, and the general idiocy of the people making decisions for teachers. They also should tell what works in addition to the disastrous policies in the district. I left early after 37 years because the stress of continuing progress when half my kids were in spec ed and/or diagnosed emotionally disturbed. Stress led to A-fib and I was hospitalized 4 times in a year. but the kicker was when three of my students sprayed perfume in my face so I would have an asthma attack and be sick. That was the last straw. Bye bye! ^0^

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      • I have positively affectef many students in my time, but teaching at this time is soooooo difficult in Philadelphia. No supplies, books, counselors, nurses, insufficient desks and chairs, 40-60 kids in a classroom, and repercussions if your students don’t progress enough. To add insult to injury, the School District of Philadelphia just cancelled our contract, eliminated seniority and paid an advertising firm to advertise on tv and radio that touts “PFT=PATHETIC FOR TEACHERS.” No one should have to teach under such conditions. I stayed almost 4 decades because I loved teaching children and making a difference. I’d probably still be teaching if it weren’t for my stress related illness. But I sure wouldn’t be quiet about the insanity that is teaching in Philadelphia today.

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      • Thanks so much for your 40 years of service. That is a long time to roll with the punches and keep making a difference. I am unfamiliar with the PFT advertising campaign – what is their point? Are they publicly bashing teachers? If so, that is unacceptable.

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  6. Rebecca, I have the utmost respect for you as a fellow educator and dear friend but I fear that we part company in response to teachers crying out in desperation. Belgian author Hugo Claus once stated, “I am a person who is unhappy with things as they stand. We cannot accept the world as it is. Each day we should wake up foaming at the mouth because of the injustice of things.” I have been an educator for nineteen years and I have to say that the situations that teachers face on a daily basis, the level of teacher bashing and blame-gaming and the wringing out of the joy, love and artistry of/for teaching has reached a point that demands attention. If I may be so bold, I would like to respond briefly to each point you made in your blog.

    1. “When you share angry teacher letters, highlights about the myriad problems in education, and yet another blog on why a great teacher has decided to leave the classroom, you merely perpetuate the problem.”

    I disagree. When one dares to speak about injustice in the world is it a perpetuation of the problem or a klaxon call to action and attention to a problem and suffering? To not speak out and say “Hey, we have a problem here!” is a lack of respect to the profession we all hold sacred and dear and an ultimate lack of self-respect. Silence is an option for those who either don’t care, have an active role in the demise of public education, glass-half-full people who prefer to safely remain overly optimistic, or those who are too afraid to speak out, which is usually the case. My granddaddy once said, “If you don’t want to watch it, hear it, or read I then don’t!” Teaching is one of the most sacred, altruistic callings in the world and teachers must be heard when they are in pain.

    2. “This demeans our profession and you as a teacher.” Speaking out about injustice and intolerable situations is simply a call for help in desperate hope that people pay attention. Politicians, “reformers,” and others who have a particular agenda have done enough to demean educators and debase the image of the teacher in American society; consequently, I doubt a teacher crying out in desperation is somehow counter productive.

    3. “You make yourself a victim of bureaucracy and idiocy.” I rather agree with this point. I love what I do! I am a teacher because I was guided, loved and encouraged by other teachers in my life. Indeed, when my classroom door is shut, I do have certain autonomy. Furthermore, if it weren’t for my kids, I too would leave the profession. Every day I try to focus on them- that’s why I am here after all! However, with testing, government policies, etc. that treasured autonomy in the classroom is being threatened. There is a victimization of teachers in America and being silent about it nor the “power of positive thinking” will not make it go away nor change the reality of teaching today.

    4. “Anyone can point out what is wrong, but if you really care, do something about it.” This is point you made on which we have complete agreement. Teachers should stop whining and start acting. I have always felt that teachers have been way too passive and willing to just be quiet and keep suffering in silence. The time is long past for crying, it’s time to act! I believe that’s why teachers are choosing to leave as a protest- I don’t necessarily agree with this.

    5. “If you are really, truly unhappy being a teacher, please, for the love of all things holy, quit.” For some, quitting is not an option. I can only speak for myself and that I don’t want to quit. I love what I do and I love my kids. I have one of the most important jobs in the world. I feel quite fortunate to walk into my classroom and show my kids that I care about them and I have high hopes for their future and I want to do all I can to help them realize their dreams. Teachers shouldn’t be quitting but be willing to stand up for themselves, their kids, and their profession and fellow professionals.

    Rebecca, thank you for all you do and I appreciate your gifts. I know your heart is always in a good place but the revolutionary in me emboldens me to raise my fist in protest and speak out for those who feel attacked, hopeless, frustrated and down trodden. I would never want them to be silenced. They deserve to be heard.

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    • Mark, I really, truly appreciate your viewpoint. Your passion for education shows itself across the board, in all you do. The impetus for this post was seeing a flood of complaints from teachers and the desire to tell people that we don’t all feel the same way. I think your viewpoint is spoken boldly by a lot of people, but the people who feel the opposite way rarely say so. One point of disagreement is to your comment, “Silence is an option for those who either don’t care, have an active role in the demise of public education, glass-half-full people who prefer to safely remain overly optimistic, or those who are too afraid to speak out, which is usually the case.” I’ve never thought of myself as safely and overly optimistic. I think of myself as someone who has an education, experience, a voice, and somewhat of a platform to voice my opinion about the messages we are sending. I can honestly say that I’ve rarely backed down on something I believed in when it came to education. Yes, it’s caused me a whole lot of extra effort and heartache, but it was worth it to stand up for my principles. I think it’s possible to be painfully aware of the negative aspects of teaching and still choose to plug away it. You’re proof of that. And you are a phenomenal teacher.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful and eloquent comments and for the love I know you have for your students.

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  7. Teachers, in general, are helpers and supporters. We are “make it work” type people. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. And our students love us for that. We do not like office politics. We are not in a race to win at all costs. We do not trash talk before a big test. We are not brash. But if it were not for all these posts and rants and “complaints”, the public would not be beginning to understand that what is happening in our schools with this corporate reform, is unprecedented in US history. And when they start to really understand that this is really something quite different from just “the regular pendulum swing” of public education fads, and that it is far deeper than just education, there is a chance that we can change things for the positive. So keep them coming, I say. Make some noise. Use your outside voices. Use your teacher stare. Whatever you can to see this craziness called corporate reform stopped dead in its tracks, before all districts are charter districts, and corporations have complete control over what we teach, to whom and when. It is time for teachers, educators and parents to take back PUBLIC education.

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    • Thanks, TCliff. I do wonder what it will take for the general public to see the truth behind all of these changes. I fear that it will be much like what we’ve seen in history – until it affects them personally, they won’t take notice. In contrast, teachers are affected personally every single day.

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  8. Greetings,
    I appreciate your perspective about teaching for almost two decades. However, teachers face real issues and concerns, and I feel that addressing, expressing, or even challenging the system means that you do not have passion or lack for the concerns of the students. I believe that the mental health of educators, parents bullying teachers and the overall conditions of an educator should be address and voiced to the nation. Sometimes, people are very comfortable settling for the status quo, but teachers voices needs to be heard. The whole teacher is just as important as the whole child- April L. Jones. Simply quitting is not always the answer. This is from an educator who has taught for over nine years in the early care field, won awards, become a master teacher and much more. As a Pre-K teacher, I have prepared children beyond kindergarten readiness even reaching levels of majority of my students into the gifted program, but teachers simply deserve better! We serve our country every day, every year,and every decade. I respect what you posted, but please consider all factors of educators across all spectrums.

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  9. I’ve had bad jobs and worked with people that complained about how they suck, but the depression and demoralization of teachers has spread across the globe. America, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom. Teachers are having nervous breakdowns and committing suicide. Teachers everywhere are suffering from the systemic pressure to teach to these learning targets, use this curriculum, use growth mindset to help students overcome their obvious lack of interest in performing on these boring lessons and endless tests, etc. I would agree with you that teachers should stop complaining if I hadn’t worked in so many different schools: urban charter, African-American charter, suburban, white, wealthy public school, rural multicultural middle and lower class mixture public school, and suburban middle and lower class public school. What I saw at all of them are many, many students that are there to learn, but far too many students that have behavior problems that take over the whole classroom. There isn’t just one behavior issue per classroom. No, try three to five (or more) young children to fifth graders with impulse control issues, anger issues, emotionally disturbed; students that need major intervention but will probably never receive it. I cry for these students and wonder what will become of them. My heart breaks for them because I wonder what will happen in their future and I know I can’t help them as much as I would like to because I am supposed to be teaching this amazing, on-target lesson and recording formative data about my students at the same time. I can’t stop thinking about them and worrying about them because I love and care for their wellbeing.
    Our teaching lives center around preparing for, practicing for, and taking standardized tests. Not just one or two either. My personal students will take eight or more tests a year. My test that I give has four separate parts that can take an hour each. One of those tests has to be given one-on-one to each student on my roster. This year I may have around forty students to test so just the one part of the test has the potential to take forty hours of my life.
    The worst part for me is knowing that I have been stressing myself and my students out for years by pushing all of us to do our best on these standardized tests. Go kids, keep trying harder and harder so you can bring your arbitrary score up. I bought into all of the testing and data bs for so long. I thought that was what I was supposed to do because everyone around me was doing it. We had pep rallies, made posters and videos, wore special t-shirts, “Ace the Test”, or some other slogan. Even our district convocation this year was about celebrating how our standardized tests scores went up in certain categories and made us have a better state grade. The administration choreographed a song and dance production with lights and streamers fell from the ceiling. I no longer care about the test scores. I don’t celebrate or worry about them because they essentially mean nothing. Those tests and scores do not help my students become stronger fluid thinkers, problem-solvers, or more creative. Those scores are there to control us. In the past I put immense pressure on myself and my students. I lost weight, became anxious and depressed, and thought about suicide. My students would get anxious about bringing their scores up and so would their families. Everyone from administration down to students feels immense pressure to perform well, get certain scores, and look good. I had second graders cry because their scores didn’t go up. Sometimes administration would have them take a test again and again to try to bring the students’ scores up.
    At some point during the last three years of my career I realized that here in America the business community is using our students to make millions and millions of dollars and at that point I stopped caring about the tests and my teacher observations. I realized every part of my teaching is controlled by corporations making a profit. Research Pearson. There is a great Forbes article about their education empire. I was killing myself and stressing my students out for tests that mean nothing and don’t help my students become better learners. The curriculum, the standards, the K-12 standardized tests, the remedial websites, the teacher license exams, and even GED courses are almost all owned by corporations and their subsidiaries. Those companies get multimillion dollar contracts of tax payer money while the public schools get cuts to their funding. I work in a building built in the 70s with leaks throughout the roof that cause mold to visibly grow on the ceiling tiles of our classrooms. Before this school I worked for a charter school investigated for nepotism. The husband and wife at the top made $400,000 a year combined while the students of their schools didn’t have libraries, computers, or even a safe playground to play in. Our playground was a building parking lot with no fences and a sewer grate that was caving in. Students are not the priority. Their success is not the priority. Profit is the priority.
    Most teachers would quit if they could find other work that would pay them a comparable salary. However, they have families to support and they need their health insurance. Schools are one of the largest employers in most states. It would be very hard for all of those teachers that want to leave to find work at the same time and at similar salaries.
    I myself have told young people not to go into teaching. It’s not the teaching that sucks. It’s the environment and expectations that suck. Teaching is joyous and fun when you aren’t under all of that pressure and stress. Teaching is fun when kids get to be creative investigators and get to explore their feelings through art, music, gym, and playing outside. Teaching like that is either very limited or nonexistent in most schools.
    As far as people following their “calling” or “passion”, be careful because college is expensive and sometimes your “calling” isn’t going to pay you enough money to live and pay back your student loans. It’s okay to choose a major that has good career prospects, internships, and a higher lifetime salary. That doesn’t exist in the current version of the K-12 teaching market. Plus, there are so many careers and jobs that didn’t even exist 5, 10, 20 years ago. It is okay to go out and try different careers until you find one that works. If that job stops being what you want to do, it is okay to leave and that includes teaching.
    I am quitting after this year. I have had enough and I will fight for better education outside of teaching because I might actually have the energy left to do it.
    If there are spelling and grammatical errors I apologize. I was typing on my phone with its crazy autocorrect.

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    • Jess, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Like you, I got over standardized test scores a long time ago and realized that they were mostly hurting the vast majority of students and that they are all about making money. If teachers were permitted to do what they are called to do and what they do best, our educational system would be infinitely better than it is. I’m sorry you are leaving the profession, as I can tell you are a real teacher through and through. I’m sorry for the students who won’t have the opportunity to learn from you. But I completely understand your decision. One thing to think about when speaking to potential teachers is that like you, they need to be given the opportunity to figure out whether teaching is for them or not. I would not discourage anyone from becoming a teacher. There are those out there who give their life to this vocation and I don’t know what any of us would do without them. My daughter knew everything about teaching from watching me and still chose to go into the profession, and she is a natural. The difference she is making in children’s lives is extraordinary. I’m not sure how long she will stay in because of all the things you brought up in your comment, but even if it’s short-term, it would have been worth it. Thanks so much and I wish you all the best in whatever comes next.

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