Sunday, December 23, 2012

Teacher dropouts

Editor's note: This is a living post to which I will continue adding the stories of teacher dropouts as they are brought to my attention.

More than 20 years ago John Taylor Gatto wrote a letter announcing his departure from the teaching profession, titled I Quit, I Think. The letter was published in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal where he said he no longer wished to "hurt kids to make a living." He gave this advice:
"We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it. I can’t teach this way any longer."
Fast forward 20 years and we have Kris Nielsen's letter published in the Washington Post in an article called, "Letter from disgusted teacher: I quit." From Nielsen we find that nothing much has changed since Gatto did the same thing in 1991.  He explained that he quit because:
 “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,” and “I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests,” 
Nielsen's not alone.  Just last week a teacher self-described as female, black and southern shared her story on her Tony Giving Lip Tumbler site in this story:
I am an American Teacher. I Love My Profession. So, I Quit.

She explained that she was no longer able to fulfill her role of institutionalizing children which required her to be the person who was made to do the following:
To corral them. To oppress them. To rob them of true educational experiences. To attempt to standardize them. To test them. To test them. To benchmark them. To rank them. To drill them. To worksheet them. To blow whistles at them to move. To ring bells for them to stand. To watch them like a hawk as they visited the restroom. The PE coach once remarked that I “looked like their CO” (correctional officer) as my students walked in line and I watched them to be sure they did so with the absolute perfection mandated by my boss, the school founder, who, although they were of age, did not enroll his own children, who were eligible because they, too, lived in Orleans Parish, in the school which he founded. He said that it wouldn’t be fair to them to have them attend the school of their father’s creation. He said they would be the only white children. And the principal’s kids. He sent them to the only public school in the parish where the rest of the white children attended. It was best for them to learn there without all of the things at his school which he imposed on Black children: non-descript uniforms, trailers, inexperienced and unqualified teachers, longer school days by way of three additional hours, and adults all around them who were as battered, abused, and depressed as they were.
It seems this public quitting thing is catching on.  

The teacher below read his letter and uploaded it to YouTube creating a video that already has had hundreds of thousands of views. 

He complains of the same issues that causes those before him to quit. He points out that socialization and learning from the world are no longer a part of the school experience,  recess is nearly extinct, and of course the over-emphasis standards and prepping everyone for the one-size-fits-all test even though we know learning should be customized.  

In this video Ellie Rubenstein tells us why she has had enough. Rubenstein explains the reasons that have led to her decision to quit and addresses several major problems she says she has faced as a teacher in our current education environment.
"I was proud to say I was a teacher," Rubenstein tells the camera, after describing how she abandoned a career in public relations to "do something meaningful" with her life. "But over the past 15 years, I've experienced the depressing, gradual downfall and misdirection of communication that has slowly eaten away at my love of teaching." 
"Raising students' test scores on standardized tests is now the only goal, and in order to achieve it the creativity, flexibility and spontaneity that create authentic learning environments have been eliminated. ... Everything I love about teaching is extinct," she continues.

Ron Maggiano, a social studies teacher at West Springfield High School in Fairfax County won the Disney Teacher Award for innovation and creativity and he also won the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for outstanding K-12 teaching. But, now, as shared in the Washington Post,  he is resigning, because he’s had enough of the high-stakes testing obsession that he believes has undermined public education

The teacher in the following video brings the painful testing process to life as he shares the day in the life of a ranked and sorted young child of immigrants. Through his story we see not only this child set up for failure, but a system designed to label those that teach these students failures too because if their students don't succeed, they risk losing their jobs, and schools risk being shut down.

But here's the sad truth that Gatto started investigating after he quit 20 years ago. As the principal boss in the "Tony Giving Lip" blog alluded to, and Gatto explains in the video below, there are two school systems.  

There is one for the masses and this system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Rank and sort compliant workers who have been indoctrinated to conform to life in the corporate cubical.

The other is for the powerful and/or rich who do not send their children to these common public schools. As Gatto told us, those making the decisions for other people's children, send their children to schools that provide an uncommon experience covering 14 themes that are purposefully absent from government run schools

The jobs these teacher dropouts are yearning for exists outside government schools. Unfortunately, as long as our society tolerates government control of schools, our teachers will be forced to follow orders resulting in the deliberate dumbing down of the masses and a departure of good teachers frustrated by their inability to provide all children with the education currently reserved for the elite.  


  1. I was a teacher and one of those who quit. I disagreed with the direction public education is going --the standardizing the curriculum, testing, testing and more testing of students, tacitly ignoring or giving lip service to Individual Education Plans to ensure that special education students all meet the standards at the artificial benchmarks set in the standards.

    The stresses and direction public education is headed became too much to deal with and I left after 10 years in the classroom. It was good for me, but was it good for the students that I left behind?

    It is hard to say and that is the part that bothers me the most, the students that I left, when I resigned.

    1. Yes. That is the hardest part to deal with. The students that are left behind. I am hoping that more educators can stand up to the system from within the system and that parents will stand right there by their sides supporting them. This won't be easy. It won't be easy at all, but just like other civil rights issues, our children are worth fighting for.

  2. Amen! I'm so ready to quit sometimes! I work at a low performing school. What can I do?

    1. Is it "low-performing" based on the rankings forced on us by standardized tests? What makes it a "low-performing" school?

  3. These martyrs are almost as bad as the martyrs who harp on how much extra they work. They do nothing to advance the conversation. Congrats on quitting ... glad the rest of us have to clean up your mess.

    1. What martyrs? They left because they felt they were doing damage to students or felt that they were in a system that was irretrievably broken. And they felt that they could not change the system from within. Hey, be proud of yourself for staying and hopefully making a positive difference, but don't cast stones at those who felt morally unable to remain.

  4. Why is it that in "low performing schools," we never talk about personal discipline as a factor in student achievement, in creating a learning environment....but in "higher performing schools" personal discipline of the students allows for the existence of a learning environment that allows students personal freedoms, such as not having to walk in straight lines, or going to the office un-escorted by an adult? To not expect/demand discipline in a student is the greatest sin being imposed on students in troubled schools. A lack of discipline creates chaos and conflict. Shame on the adults who are purposefully participating in this sham and saying nothing. Discipline is at the core of all the confusion. It is immoral to speak of School reform, and never, ever speak of discipline.

    1. I remember when I was in school, and I finished my work, the teacher would instruct us to read a book, or do your homework, whatever. What I could not do was talk, nor disrupt others, nor leave the class to go to the bathroom, go to the office, call my mama, go talk to another teacher who was teaching another class, etc. (sound familiar teachers??). Now, I came to school with two parents in the household. More importantly, I came to the school with some sense of personal discipline, a respect for authority. I respected the authority figure because that was what I was taught. I was not taught that an adult "had to earn my respect" before I followed the directives of an adult, as is being told to students in struggling schools. If a student does not come to the school setting with these disciplines, then it must be taught to the student. If it's a group of students, or the entire school that lacks discipline, then the group or entire school must be taught discipline. All the coddling until 6 o'clock in the evening, all the snacks, all the field trips and gift cards does not make a disciplined student. All the student learns from these actions is how to manipulate adults. When I was teaching, I couldn't understand how grown, educated, licensed adults would allow one student to completely monopoly their time everyday. And now, the teachers, who are the only ones in the system with the courage to stand in front of children everyday, are being made the scapegoat for this ongoing foolishness. Teachers need to put fears aside and take back their profession by refusing to be dictated to, and demanding to sit at the head of the decision-making table as they steer school reform.

  5. That first video makes me want to cry! I am proud of teachers brave enough to quit, and sometimes dream of so many quitting because they believe in true education that the state finally listens up!

    I am a homeschooling mother to four boys and I have to admit that it is so tempting some days to just sign them up for public school. It's extremely demanding to be with my kids 24/7! This post is a great helps to reinvigorate my commitment to raising true lifelong learners.

    While it is definitely a sacrifice for me to stay home (financially and otherwise) with my sons, I recognize that it is truly not an option for everyone, and my heart breaks when I see what is offered to children in my city (one of the worst in the nation). How can I advocate for the young people of my city? Is there anything we can do to try to promote change?

  6. Lisa, I enjoyed reading the background information and watching the videos. I wasn't familiar with Gatto but find his observations fascinating. His comments captured my imagination. He seems to think private schools yield powerful leaders. I wondered if there were any patterns for successful individuals who graduated from public schools. (Steve Jobs came to mind)Who are the true leaders in a Democracy?. How many real change agents are born to glory? I think change happens from within and that is most often within a system of constraints. What if the very oppressive nature of public education has increased the potential for explosive new ideas?