A Few thoughts on Fine

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I posted this article (Why I Left Teaching Behind) on my Facebook, and while I think she brings up some very relevant points, I do have a few concerns.

Before I go off, realize that I consider myself to be an idealist. I have a BA in Philosophy. I became a teacher to “make a difference”. But I knew what I was getting into and I had a mentor who didn’t waste time telling me how schools really worked. I learned how to survive in a public school.

I cringe when she says she “[fell in love with the idea”] of the job and that she wanted to ” ‘give back’ after spending 22 years in a suburban, Ivy League bubble”. It reminds me of the Nice White Lady skit from Mad TV. Yes, these teachers exist, but at great personal cost because living like that isn’t feasible. I’m not Jaime Escalante from Stand and Deliver, and it’s not fair for anyone to expect that from me. I hate to say this, but teaching is not my life. It’s my job, my career, my passion – but not my life. Yes, these teachers do great things in the classroom, but at what personal cost? I’m not willing to make that sacrifice. That being said, I do a lot for my students. My school and co-workers do a lot for my students. But this fanatical devotion that the media seems to think is necessary for a good teacher is doing more harm than good.

We are going to have bad days. Bad years. Bad classes. It happens. If I had compared myself with these über teachers who have movies and awards named after them, I probably would have quit after four years as well.

But I am genuinely confused when she says that she has to explain and even defend her reasons for becoming a teacher. I don’t know of anyone who thinks I have a “lesser” profession. Many times people will tell me that I could make more money elsewhere, which is probably true, but no one ever asks me why I started teaching. I’ve never had to explain myself. Sure, there are some people who think it’s an easy job, but that’s only because they had lazy teachers in the past – anyone who knows me knows that’s not the case.

No one has ever talked to me about cheating on standardized test scores. No one has ever suggested that I became a teacher to oogle my under-age students. I’ve never been accused of being unethical. But then again, I wasn’t raised in an “Ivy League Bubble”. Maybe that has something to do with the attitude she faced.

I think she missed the entire point of the article though – what could have been done to retain her? More pay? More respect? More freedom? More student success?

I don’t think it’s fair for to say that her generation is “engaged,” “upbeat” and “achievement-oriented”, insinuating that older generations aren’t and that’s why theystuck it out in the classroom. How many of those veteran teachers do you think would have quit thirty years ago if the classroom of 1979 looked like the classroom of 2009? I don’t think it’s a generational gap – I just think things have changed.

My last point of contention is that she ends with the hope that some of those teachers who quit will continue in the education field by writing education policy. I have a huge problem with this: I don’t want some first year quiter writing education policies for me. Granted, they probably are doing it for the right reasons, but they haven’t been in education long enough to figure out what *really* needs to be fixed. Before you can fix something, you have to know what is wrong with it first. I imagine policy makers like that are issue driven, rather than looking out for the best interest of all students.

I think it’s a shame that Cesar Chavez lost her as a teacher – She sounds motivated, genuinely interested, and creative: I think she had too many expectations and didn’t know how to deal with disappointment.

Personally, I think the best way to deal with teacher retention is through the principals and the school environment. You want teachers to stick around? Then hire good principals.

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