Why Teachers Quit

This morning I read a review of Why Great Teachers Quit over at the Education Policy Blog. The review mentions teachers being overworked, entering the profession with lots of idealism (and presumably having it crushed), and the disrespectful treatment we generally receive from the corporate reform movement. These are all reasons teachers quit, to be sure, but I really felt that the review failed to capture the venom with which teachers are being attacked. Many teachers feel like they're living in a surreal version of Nineteen Eighty-four - no exaggeration.

Last year, my AP told me if the school worked his way, I could get hit by a bus and nobody would know the difference. He told me virtually anyone could be hired to do my job. This is corporate reform's mindset, but this guy also had a reputation for verbally, sexually, and physically abusing staff and students. His alleged affair with the principal was what most staff believed protected him from being fired - that along with an inept union and lack of concern on the part of Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Although both received letters about this AP's despicable behavior, Rhee is said to have responded, "You can't argue with results." I can't independently verify that, but that's what I was told by one teacher who complained.

There are thousands of these stories across the country, and millions across the world - this is not a phenomenon specific to the US.

On February 4th in the Bronx and February 11th in Brooklyn, rallies will be held in support of teachers who've been harassed, specifically teachers from Bronx Science, where teachers in the math department were routinely harassed by their supervisor. Teachers were criticized in front of students, brought to the point of tears, and referred to as "disgusting" at meetings. Thirteen of twenty math teachers have since left the school. There was an even worse turnover rate in the social studies department at Columbia Heights Educational Campus, my former school in DC.

More examples?

The city of New York recently announced that Iris Blige, principal of Fordham High School of Arts in the Bronx, will continue in her position despite Office of Special Investigations finding that she threatened APs with their jobs if they did not give U ratings to teachers before they'd ever been observed. Comments at Gotham Schools and JD2718 suggest the environment was unbearable.

Mr Teachbad, sort of the John Stewart of teacher blogging, tells of his administration's recent move to define exactly what activities must occur in each teacher's classroom on each day of the week. I'm glad I don't work at that school...

In Detroit, everyone's favorite not-a-real-superintendent, Robert Bobb, has kids being taught by Walmart. He's hoping to bring the same model to DC.

In Philadelphia, Arlene Ackerman has threatened school personel with criminal prosecution if they speak out about "confidential information" related to the school district or its employees. The same is said to be true of Broad-trained Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, who's also scared teachers from speaking publicly about what's happening there.

New teacher evaluation systems in New Haven, DC, Baltimore, NYC and plenty of other places across the country will make it exceedingly difficult for anyone in an urban school to keep a job for longer than a few years. What better way to get rid of tenure than to never grant it to anyone in the first place? I, for example, might soon be required to move 85 percent of my students to grade-level proficiency despite many of them being unable to read or write a paragraph in English.

In Rochester, Broad-trained Jean-Claude Brizard is trying to close schools unilaterally, with no input from parents, students, or teachers.

In 2009, 43 percent of large superintendent openings were filled by graduates of the Broad superintendent academy. I've never attended the academy, but I'd guess its essential learnings go something like this:

-Parents, teachers, and students have no clue what's best for them. Effective leaders act without their input.

-Not only are test scores are valid indicators of educational progress, they're all that matter. Treat them like a businessman treats profit.

-Close as many public schools as you can and invite as many private operators to take them over as possible. The private sector is always right. Public employees are always incompetent.

-Actively seek to rid your systems of educators whose viewpoints have been contaminated by experience. While you probably can't actually kill them (and keep your job), the Khmer Rouge's model is a good one to study.

Today in the New York Times, Michelle Rhee, who I'm utterly convinced has narcissistic personality disorder (not kidding - at all), reminded everyone that we should be privatizing as quickly as possible and relying on student test scores as much as possible in evaluating teachers. She applauds six states for increasing their reliance on testing and twenty-seven for allowing more charter schools. The piece might not come off so self-aggrandizing if you didn't know she thinks she's responsible for those changes.

The National Education Association recently refused to rule out a nation-wide strike if widespread attempts were made to eliminate tenure. I'd rather see a nation-wide strike against unqualified leaders in our districts. That's where most of the vitriolic ignorance is coming from, backed by monied and ideological interests who see deprofessionalizing the American teacher as a path toward improving the economy. Imagining an unqualified teacher in front of my kids worries me. That disagrement around Cathie Black's appointment is viewed as legitimate debate is particularly sad.

Why do teachers quit? Seriously - why do any of them stay?


  1. Thank you. Your article gives me a scare - seeing all those different cities mentioned.

    I teach at community college level, and although we don't have the same problems yet, I can see it coming...

    1. Oh, its coming to Louisiana. Higher ed is having retirement threatened by our politicians/governor.

  2. Great post! I, too, believe a nationwide strike is in order.

  3. I have been teaching in the Bronx since 1996. At the time, and for many years, I thought I'd be a career city teacher. That made me feel happy- I could have left for the suburbs but I have always loved working with the kids. After 14 years I am making a decent salary.

    Now, I'm tired of Bloomberg, Black, Gates, Rhee, Whitney Tilson, etc, who think they know all when they know nothing. I am grateful that my husband and I can afford for me to make a career change, as I will almost certainly be taking a pay cut. And I don't care- the next school year will be my last, and I am so done. I'm tired of being made to feel like garbage.

    1. I agree... I will retire soon and can not wait! I am saddened by the change in public education.

    2. I taught for ten year after giving up career in law and graduate studies at the university. Last year, I had enough of the "changes" and left. I loved my students even though most of them could not read and write at grade level. My greatest joy, as a teacher, was to see a student solving an equation he/she given up on it long ago or composed an essay after hearing, "I ain't never good in English." Standardized test and school Admin. killed what was once a honorable profession. I am hoping that I am the only who left the teaching field, but I know that when the economy improves more teachers will leave.

  4. I recently blogged about adversity, and teacher certainly attracts more than its share. Some of my students are more sullen than their years would suggest, and administrators, like cognac, are best in small doses. I work hard to avoid my "superiors," who all claim to be former teachers but often behave as if the challenging dynamics of the classroom are foreign to them.

    As for the students, I find humor and an open mind eventually reach even the hardest heart. The challenges of teaching, I think, can only be absorbed if you keep smiling at the silliness swirling above your head. I also recommend singing an upbeat song to yourself during the morning commute.

    Now in my sixth year, I do find my enthusiasm waning slightly (and my school has never recovered from last year's October teacher firings), but I am hoping that dreams of summer (yes, I am already looking ahead) and a nice glass of Pinot noir will see me through to June. Besides, my students still make me laugh.

  5. At the same time that all these terrible things are happening to teachers, another development is taking place:

    In California, a huge teacher shortage is being forecast, as baby boomers retire and fewer people are preparing for K-12 careers. As California goes, so goes the nation.

    Teachermandc and other young teachers, the best thing you can do for yourselves and your students is to find another job until you are treated in a way that you deserve.

  6. After several years of teaching, I joined a public school district this year. 9 weeks into the school year, I am already burned out, sadly enough. I have had students in my 3rd grade class threaten to "break me in half", "break my legs", break a ruler and follow me trying to stab me, threaten to bring a gun to school, etc. I have always prided myself as a teacher who was able to reign even the most difficult students in to learn but I have exhausted all my tricks and am exhausted, frustrated, and exasperated at this point. I joined the teaching profession to make a difference and prevent students from falling between the cracks but what do I do when students could care a less about learning and are resistent to every effort you make to help THEM succeed?

  7. I've been teaching chemistry for 18 years, and I am praying/hoping that this semester is my last. The entire 'reform' movement is run by educrats without a single clue of what a classroom looks like, much less the kids who are in it. I've always been a supporter of school choice, and that opinion has only strengthened over the years. Teachers are dismissed the year before tenure is due, insane paper work (our superintendent in a rural district in Alabama has us using a gradebook on paper - with 5 different colors to be used for 5 different categories), and overt disrespect for the person who is actually inside the room trying to get the job done. I've had it.

  8. I stumbled across your blog on accident this morning. After 15 years of serving as an exemplary teacher, I was placed under one of the leader that you mentioned above. Over 50% of my class was diagnosed ADD/ADHD. With no help from administration, I felt like a referee. After being "written up" for little classroom management I tendered my resignation yesterday. The good teachers are being forced out by bad "business-like" policy with little interest of what is best for the children. Thank you for having the courage and the heart to speak up.

  9. I was just searching for something to help me understand how I am feeling right now. I am being "stalked", "hounded", "harassed", "threatened", and "bullied" by a very small group of moms in a very small town. Long story short, I feel as though parents can walk into the Super's office, by-passing me, the Principal and the Board and demand to have a teacher fired over a "perceived' situation or incident. I am afraid to even to go into detail on an anonymous blog about it. I have spent countless nights crying wondering why I am doing this career. My family has lost out on a happy mom/wife for about 2 years now. It is a combination of poor leadership, scared Super, and other staff who are unwilling to support you publicly because they are afraid they might be next ..... ugh

  10. Don't be yourself...be a robot. You were unable to capture the real feelings of the teachers? It evolves slowly; one ridiculous coworker or administrator "gossips" about you. "She's not following every plan!" Here are some tiny "things" that add up to a lot:
    Test score competition...oh no!
    Non-professional conduct
    Teachers are treated like children as well
    Don't ever rock the boat with a new idea
    The housewives and husbands of Gossipville
    Put on a throne only to...
    crash and burn
    Don't be too smart
    Watch out if you are targeted
    Sounds like junior high, huh?


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