“Hey Steph, I need some advice. I hope you can help.”
That’s how the phone conversation started with a long-time friend who teaches third grade in Florida.
“Sure, what’s up?” I ask, prepared for another of our hour+ long conversations about better meeting the needs of children and families, new books that might be of interest, new professional development opportunities, and – on the negative side – all the new requirements that are constantly bombarding him and keeping him from focusing on his teaching.
“I’m ready to get out of education. I can’t do this any more.”
He continued before I spoke, “I mean, look what they’re doing. They’re cutting our salaries, they are cutting our jobs, they are telling us to do more and more with less and less. I just don’t see how my future can be in public education.”
Tom – we’ll call my friend Tom here – came to education a little later than most. He graduated with a criminal justice degree, worked in retail and food service management (wildly successful at the kid-favorite Chuck E. Cheese), and decided in his late twenties that he would like to work with youth. It wasn’t the perfect time for heading back to school – he now had a wife and was thinking about a family – but he made the sacrifice of time and money to earn his teaching certification and never looked back.
Tom always worked in schools that have a hard time attracting the best talent, and that’s where he wanted to work. He made kids laugh (I’ve seen him in action), he made kids listen, and he inspired kids to share his passion of math and science and life.
“Boring” would never be a word used to describe his classroom.
Tom also organized exciting professional development events for himself and his colleagues. I was an honored “visiting author” to his school for one of my books they studied together – on their own time – and I had energizing virtual conversations with Tom and his colleagues around a second book of mine they studied. Again – organized by themselves and all on their own time.
Tom is a teacher we need. He is smart, engaged, motivated, and a motivator.
But he’s planning to leave education.
Folks who aren’t in the trenches of education every day have no idea what kind of crisis we are experiencing. Top-Down mandates, high-stakes testing, merit pay evaluations, and scripted pacing guides would bore even the most unmotivated person. But for teachers – most who joined the profession because they love to be creative, to continue to grow and change, to improvise their practice based on the interests and needs of students, and to inspire the next generation of citizens who might make a better world – these requirements and restrictions and reactions and punitive measures are worse than a bummer, they are depressing and anti-creative and anti-improvisational and in the end anti-teacher and anti-student.
No wonder they’re dropping like flies.
And then there are those who suck it up because they keep thinking it will get better.
I hope they are right.
When the Toms of the teaching world (and this includes dozens I know personally over the past few years) leave the profession, they are leaving children behind who will continue to be categorized and sorted through all kinds of measures that have nothing to do with real education.