Opinion
Education Opinion

Not Another “Why I Left the Classroom” Story

By Nancy Flanagan — June 29, 2012 3 min read

There’s no shortage of blogs on why teachers are leaving the classroom.

They’re leaving because they’re sick of the test-driven instruction and learning. They’re leaving because everyone underestimates the complexity and the workload of classroom teaching. They’re leaving because they’ve been on the job for 15 years and still don’t make enough to pay the bills. They’re fearful of speaking up against practices they know are harmful to children. They’re weary and burned out and looking for greener pastures.

The veteran teacher--the one with inkstained fingers, eyes in the back of her head and encyclopedic knowledge about Great Expectations--is giving way to a revolving door of short-termers willing to dispense “core content” from a script. How to get a teaching job in 2012? Just follow Teach.Hub’s advice on preparing for your interview questions:

How do you teach to the state standards? If you interview in the United States, school administrators love to talk about state, local, or national standards! Reassure your interviewer that everything you do ties into standards. Be sure the lesson plans in your portfolio have the state standards typed right on them. When they ask about them, pull out your lesson and show them the close ties between your teaching and the standards.
How will you prepare students for standardized assessments? There are standardized assessments at almost every grade level. Be sure you know the names of the tests. Talk about your experiences preparing students. You'll get bonus points if you know and describe the format of the test because that will prove your familiarity.

Teach Plus is a Gates-funded non-profit which focuses on a kind of “opportunity culture” for young teachers, including “retaining effective teachers in staff reductions.” This week, on their Huffington Post blog, they’re running a series of “honest, bittersweet” vignettes on some of those “effective” teachers who just can’t decide--should I stay in teaching or should I go?

The gist of these little stories is that teaching is terribly hard, public schools are broken, higher-prestige positions are calling them--but...they’re staying! For the kids, of course.

Which begs the question: Don’t most teachers stay in teaching because they find it personally rewarding? Can’t every reasonably good teacher generate stories about The Kid Who Was Hard to Reach, who somehow came around, or the deep satisfaction of seeing the light bulb of student comprehension turn on?

I have great empathy for hard-working teachers who finally decide that they’ve had enough. What I find self-serving is teachers who seem to think that they deserve special recognition for merely sticking around. For the kids.

If you’re committed to teaching, and think of yourself as a teacher, you may be willing to put up with what Michelle Rhee might call crappy conditions because it’s who you are and what you do. When the balance tilts--when the joy and creativity are sucked out of the work and all you’re doing is typing state standards into lesson plans and getting bonus points for knowing the format of standardized assessments--then, by all means, take a principled stand and get out. Sharing your story of why you left is helpful to the discourse.

But if your initial starry-eyed dedication to teaching as a noble profession wavers, don’t expect veteran educators to beg you to stay.

I spent more than 30 years in the classroom. I took a two-year break (after year 27) to work as a Teacher in Residence at a non-profit. Although I liked the job, there were many days when I left my cubicle wondering what, precisely, I had accomplished in the previous eight hours’ worth of sitting at a computer, meetings and phone calls. Never once did I cross the parking lot after teaching, however, without reflecting on a least a few concrete things that were taught and learned.

Teachers in my generation didn’t have to ponder every spring: should I stay or should I go? They considered teaching their life’s work, an honorable choice, a service to their communities. There were plenty of not-so-great years in my teaching career, when there were inequities, overloads, conflicts over critical professional issues. They came with the territory. I didn’t worry about whether I could or should be doing something “better” with my life.

Teaching--even in easier times--has never been for the faint of heart or the wishy-washy. Stay in the classroom because you believe you’re a teacher and you’re committed to teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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