I probably could have kept teaching for more than 33 years. Like some of my colleagues who die in the saddle. But the accumulation of attacks on the teaching profession over the past decade, along with other annoyances, had begun to wear on me, and in the end I decided it was easier to hang it up than to soldier on.
There is no room for selfishness in the teaching profession — you are constantly giving yourself to students and school — and after teaching Walden for many years, I thought that like Thoreau, it was time to live "deliberately."
So why did I quit? Here are 10 reasons — some more serious than others.
1. I have attended almost 400 faculty meetings during my career. Not one has ever improved my teaching. (The really sad part about this is that, as an administrator for three years, I led some of them.)
2. The CliffsNotes version of The Scarlet Letter outsells the actual book by a ratio of 3.6 to 1.
3. I wanted to go out before I lost both my hair and my hearing. One outta two isn't bad. (What's that you say?)
4. Despite all the research proving that teens learn better with more sleep, we still insist on trying to teach adolescents at 7:40 in the morning. Then we fawn over data-driven instruction.
5. On April 23, Shakespeare's birthday, I had to be off campus scoring state exams instead of teaching English.
6. We can put a man on the moon but no one's figured out how to grade an essay using Scantron.
7. On June 20, I spent the day scoring the English Language Arts Regents Exam, a New York state comprehensive test that functions as a graduation requirement. My colleagues informed me that my students wrote great essays. Too bad I wasn't allowed to read them. (Teachers can no longer score their own students' exams.)
8. On June 23, I spent the day scoring "local 20" exams to assess teacher effectiveness. Of approximately 1200 exams, we didn't have a single failure. So the entire exercise was for nothing.
9. Jesus completed his work in 33 years, and who am I to try to surpass that? (This, as we English teacher types refer to it, is "Christ figure" symbolism).
10. If I'd have known about all the wonderful tributes I'd be getting from students, colleagues, and administrators, I would have retired every year.
Speaking of tributes, my fellow teachers organized a retirement breakfast on my last day. While we were celebrating in the school cafeteria, upstairs, a fellow teacher freaked out. She'd taught chemistry for over 30 years, but on this day she lost it completely and hurled beakers and other glassware, laden with various chemicals, around her lab, trashing the place. I'm not at liberty to say what exactly sparked this incident, but I can report that it involved APPR.
The Annual Professional Performance Review is a recent initiative to measure teacher effectiveness in New York public schools. At the end of the year, we submit students to yet another battery of tests, the local 20 exams referred to above, then score them, not so much to measure students' gains over the year, but to grade teachers on the infamous HEDI scale: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, and the dreaded Ineffective. A year ago, a group of sixth grade English teachers almost came to blows over what some considered unfair scoring practices. And this is in a school system rated number one in upstate New York out of 429 districts, whose two high schools both appear among the top 100 nationally every year.
Many new teachers entering the profession have no idea about the pressure cooker they will endure, a pressure cooker that causes even seasoned teachers to go bonkers. Still, it's time to leave teaching to a new generation of enthusiastic and dedicated young professionals. I wish them luck.
During his many years in education, Gary Wiener has served as a teacher, department head, assistant principal, and district leader. His articles have appeared in Newsweek and Family Circle, among other publications.
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