Monday, December 30, 2013

Why Do Teachers Quit?

There are a lot of reasons, of course, and we face them each and every day. This piece focuses on why teachers of color quit. Admittedly, I lack color, so I can speak personally only as to why I see people quit, and I'm afraid I don't pay much attention to what color they are. For one thing, this is a tough job. You don't instantly walk in and reach kids, and there are few things more frustrating than failure.

And let me tell you, you don't need to be observed 4-6 times a year to know you're failing. Kids will tell you instantly. They will ignore you. They will do whatever the hell they please, and you'll be standing there like an idiot. If you don't get a handle on that, and you don't quit, I don't know how you do it.

Financial matters can further alienate teachers of color from coworkers. Teachers from well-to-do families have the advantage of accepting a low-paying teaching position and still having money available to them through other means.

Apparently, I come from a background of extreme wealth. I didn't realize that until this writer told me. Actually, when I decided to turn down the first regular tenure-track assignment I'd ever been offered--teaching English at what was then Springfield Gardens High School, I should have asked mom and dad to support me. (By then, I'd decided I wanted to teach ESL, which I'd been assigned more or less by accident.)

Instead, I went out and found a job playing in world's worst Irish wedding band. I didn't love the gig, but it and a student loan got me through a year of grad school. In fact, while the writer may not have had that option, there are other jobs one can get, and working one's way through college is not all that unusual. Were that option unacceptable, the writer might have sought a job in a real public school, where the pay would probably have been better.

When I saw teachers from wealthier backgrounds stay in the profession, I had to remind myself that they, through their family or connections, could more easily tolerate a teaching salary knowing they would always have access to a lifestyle my family and I could only aspire to.

Yes of course. After 30 years as a teacher, I'm thinking of breaking into the stock market. Maybe I'm the next Wolf of Wall Street.

And though my salary was enough to give me a comfortable lifestyle, and save a decent amount of money, it did not make me feel like I had used my education to pursue a career that was reputable, a career that made my family’s legacy “better.”

This sort of says the important thing is to be wealthy, and that your family won't respect you otherwise. I used to work as a musician, and my dad always asked when I would get a real job. As a teacher, he asked when I would get a better job.  I guess if impressing your parents is the most important thing in your life, this career is not for you.

And frankly, that speaks to your personal limitations. Sure, it would be nice to be paid more. It would be great if America respected education enough to improve conditions. Still, whatever color you may be, I'm not sure that a core value of abject materialism makes you an ideal role model. I'd rather make sure kids have the tools they need,  encourage them to do what they love and figure out how to go with it. I'm lucky enough to love teaching, and I can tell kids, from firsthand experience, that it's worth pursuing what you love.

I don't believe this Ivy League TFA/ charter school two-year wonder has what it takes to be a teacher.

I'd much rather hear from those who do.
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