The One Reason I Quit Teaching

I read this piece (attached below), written by blogger Elona Schreiner, and I’ll admit it made me sniffle. I was overwhelmed because it reminded me so strongly of my own experience. While I paused my teaching career to care for my small children rather than because of the chafing of the current demands of teaching, I completely understand this teacher’s concern for the politicization of education, and the frustration it causes. Like her, I’ve had students whose greatest growth could never be recorded in a spreadsheet or charted on a graph.

I remember a second-grade student who improved from a pre-kindergarten reading level — not even able to identify a single letter in her own name — to an end-of-first-grade level… and despite my personal joy in her progress, I felt the sting of the knowledge that on paper, she and I appeared to be failures, because she still wasn’t reading at the appropriate level. It hurts, knowledge like that.

It’s been painful to see the vibrant, growing, life-loving children I’ve learned to love each year being reduced to numbers on a chart, being analyzed as if they’re products in a warehouse. It hurts to realize that a child who really needs the boost of summer school, doesn’t qualify because — oh terrible irony! — he and I worked so hard that year that his score was too high by one percentile to fit into the program, because of reduced funding.

I know teachers who teach with energy and inspiration, who rise above the politics and the tests and assessments and charts and Excel worksheets, who lead their students to a love of learning with passion and fire. But maintaining that kind of energy is exhausting, when over half the time spent working is recording, analyzing, moving numbers from one spreadsheet to another — while less than half the time is spent with the children. I spent easily 60-80 hours working each week; only about 30 of those hours were spent with my students.

I’m not trying to gain sympathy, really. It’s just that what teachers love is, well, teaching; and maintaining passion for teaching as we watch it shift away from a focus on children, toward a focus on numbers, is disheartening — and that won’t change until it’s a widely recognized issue.

I look forward to returning to teaching. But I dread it, too, for all the reasons outlined in Ms. Schreiner’s piece that’s attached here. Maybe someday those things will change; in the meantime, our students still need us, and I’m grateful for my colleagues in the trenches even as I’m reveling in my opportunity to take a step back and breathe. I’m grateful to those who set an example of grace and strength, who maximize every moment they have with their students, who refuse to be worn down by politics and by our nation’s appetite for numbers on graphs.

elonaschreiner

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September means apples, bulletin boards, foliage, name tags, a new class and everything else about going back-to-school! After over thirty years of starting the fall in a classroom, as a student or teacher, I decided to take a break this year. I taught for thirteen years all over Oregon, and it was not an easy decision to take a year off from teaching. We moved from Oregon to Texas and I knew that now was the time to step back. It’s now been two months since school started for the rest of my world, and I have had time reflect upon the decision to change careers. I can now articulate the many things I miss about teaching and the one thing that I do not.

Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher. There were moments when I saw myself as a lawyer, a rodeo cowgirl, a photojournalist, a…

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