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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

When a Teacher Quits

By Peter DeWitt — November 16, 2012 5 min read
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State education departments will implode under the weight of their own accountability.

In a recent post by Diane Ravitch, I read the following statement. “I’m doing something I thought I would never do--something that will make me a statistic and a caricature of the times. Some will support me, some will shake their heads and smirk condescendingly--and others will try to convince me that I’m part of the problem. Perhaps they’re right, but I don’t think so. All I know is that I’ve hit a wall, and in order to preserve my sanity, my family, and the forward movement of our lives, I have no other choice”.

And so begins the letter of resignation by Union County Public School (North Carolina) teacher Kris Nielsen. It’s a sad commentary about public education today but not one that comes as a surprise. After years of being pushed by regulations and prodded by accountability educators are looking for other options in life. Our present system and the rules being guided by non-education policymakers are causing people to opt out of public education.

At a recent party someone introduced me as a public school principal. To the group of six people holding their red wine it became a time to ask me all the questions they wanted to ask about public education. They asked about testing and accountability. They asked about school funding for which I had many honest answers. I can’t sit back and not give them an honest answer. It’s probably why I don’t get invited back to parties. Before one of the gentleman left he looked at me and said, “Don’t worry. It will get better. We have to do something because our kids aren’t competing globally.”

I wondered where he got his information. I wondered if he heard a 30 second sound byte and decided to use it in mixed company. He was on his way out, and I was looking to leave, so I just walked away. Fighting to be heard is something public educators have had to do a lot lately. I want to say, “Don’t believe the hype.”

When a Teacher Quits
I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.
I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests.
I refuse to be an unpaid administrator of field tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit.
I will not spend another day wishing I had some time to plan my fantastic lessons because administration comes up with new and inventive ways to steal that time, under the guise of PLC meetings or whatever. I’ve seen successful PLC development. It doesn’t look like this.
I will not spend another day wondering what menial, administrative task I will hear that I forgot to do next. I’m far enough behind in my own work.
I will not spend another day wondering how I can have classes that are full inclusion, and where 50% of my students have IEPs, yet I’m given no support.
I will not spend another day in a district where my coworkers are both on autopilot and in survival mode. Misery loves company, but I will not be that company

Schools are not just at risk of losing creativity, they are at risk of losing incredible teachers. Some are leaving because they are stressed and the final straw of accountability has caused them to leave the profession they worked so hard to get into. Others are leaving because of budget cuts and they lost their jobs. Students are losing great teachers all because of budgets, testing and accountability which is very much our new reality.

Unfortunately, when teachers leave the profession we are one step closer to playing into the hands of people who clearly lack any educational know how. They believe that education should be measured, boxed up and neatly packaged under the title of student performance. They are not improving education. They are ruining it for our students.

It is sad for me when a teacher with promise sees this as the only way out. It is sad when I read that administrators may be a part of the problem and not the solution. I realize that this is a very powerful one-sided resignation but there have been other blogs written by teachers who are leaving the profession and they note that their administrators are taking the path of least resistance.

In a recent Teaching Now Blog, Why Teacher’s Quit: It’s the Principal, Stupid Anthony Rebora stated, “The quality of the relationship with their principal was a stronger predictor of the teachers’ intent to remain in the profession than factors related to workloads, administrative duties, resource availability, or the frequency of professional-development opportunities.

Stand Up, Speak Out
There are other educators, including administrators, who are taking a different route. There are teachers and administrators who are not backing down. Don Sternberg, principal of Wantagh Elementary School in New York wrote an outstanding letter about the state of education to his parents. Among the fantastic quotations he said, “

One significant issue as we move into this new school year is that we will, at times, find it difficult if not impossible to teach authentic application of concepts and skills with an eye towards relevancy.

What we will be teaching students is to be effective test takers; a skill that does not necessarily translate into critical thinking - a skill set that is necessary at the college level and beyond. This will inevitably conflict with authentic educational practice - true teaching.”

Or Tony Sinanis, principal of National Blue Ribbon Award Winning Cantiague Elementary School on Long Island, New York who wrote to N.Y. State Education Commissioner Dr. John King stating, “First of all, our children are feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and they are starting to doubt their own abilities and it is only October. Why? Maybe it is because they are being subjected to numerous difficult tests and tasks as a result of the expectations of the Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) that have recently been put in place.”

In The End
As a school principal I believe we should all speak out and hang around. Many state education departments cannot possibly keep up with the pace they have set for themselves. They will implode under the weight of their own accountability. For those of us who have been in education for a long time, we know what a real education looks like and it should never be filled with an overabundance of standardized testing or a lack of creativity.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.