Why I Quit Teaching

A post caught my attention the other day and I’m usually not one to write response pieces, but I can’t stop thinking about this.

This post is about why I quit teaching nearly two years ago, and why that was a good decision.

My Story

I was teaching in a charter school two years ago. My wife and I moved back to South Bend after living in Evansville, Ind. Moving back to South Bend was difficult because neither of us had work nor a place to live. I managed to land an interview pretty quickly at the school which was founded two years prior to provide a mix of academic and vocational training for students. We ran an alternative schedule, which modeled the “business day,” so staff and students were in session from 8AM to 5PM each day. There were nine class hours, plus an advisory. I taught seven of those nine first semester.

I was working my tail off. In addition, the school was dysfunctional. We didn’t have completed schedules for students until the second week of school. We ran study halls for an entire week from day one. We had staff meetings with yelling and blame games. I tried to remind myself that it was a brand new school and that things would turn around.

As we continued through the year, I became more involved in integrating tech into instruction. I led some PD on flipping and using Google apps to extend the type of work being done. I felt good about taking on some of these things because people were interested. As we went into the Christmas break, I was talking with my administrators about consolidating some of my classes (one class had eight students) and splitting my time between staff development and teaching.

I got back from Christmas break with the same class load, PD responsibilities, and students missing schedules. I was asked to support people during one of my plans and co-teach my last science class with one of the middle school teachers. My students were confused, I was stressed, and the other teacher was caught in the middle of trying to set up new procedures.

Our staff meetings also began to focus on creating vertically-aligned tests. We spent time in the departments looking at what we taught and writing up exams to make sure students were progressing. I started asking questions about the use of the tests and it eventually came out that we’d be taking three days at the beginning and end of each semester to test. The results would also be used in determining our evaluation scores and our pay.

I left on March 1st.

Teaching as Vocation

I’ve written at length about the unique struggle teachers go through when it comes to our work. Our community is close. Our bonds are tight. When someone leaves teaching, it’s a big deal.

Unfortunately, it’s too big of a deal.

I was 100% unhappy with teaching. I couldn’t stand to face my administrators or my colleagues. I was unhappy at home. I was frustrated and felt like I’d had a bait-and-switch pulled on me. My students were not getting the best of who I was as a teacher.

What it came down to was that it would be better for their progress and my personal health to step out of the classroom.

Yet, I still felt like a teacher.

Therein lies the problem: if you’re a teacher, that’s all you can do. And if you leave, you’re a bad teacher.

Posts like this where being a good teacher is based on grit and toughing it out, or that in leaving:

“[w]e teach [students] that when things get hard, and when we don’t agree with something, then just quit and find something else.”

It’s a lie, and it’s something that our culture of education perpetuates. As someone who has walked away at one point, believing this lie hindered me for months.

What ends up happening in a system where people are afraid to leave because of community pressure is you have a lot of unhappy teachers. Students see teachers going through motions – shells of what good teachers looks like.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has left for similar reasons, but I do know that I was terrified to let people know I was leaving.

Please, if you know of or hear about someone stepping out of the classroom, don’t say things like, “I never thought you’d leave,” or, “You’re the last person I expected to quit.” I know they were well meaning and it was meant to be a compliment, but I can say from experience that it doesn’t come off that way. I felt like I was betraying a community, and it was difficult to maintain relationships from my point of view. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, but it’s one – given the same situation – I’d make again.

_Doorknob is creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by rachel a. k.
The desk photo is mine.

Student Rubrics with Google Forms and docappender

Every other month, we give students an argumentative writing prompt which is then scored against a standard rubric. One of our school goals is to improve the quality of writing from our students, so we teach them not only the content, but how to make a good argument. Using things like facts along with application and persuasive writing techniques all blend into one piece.

With each prompt, students see the scoring rubric beforehand and then receive that back with their writing so they can see what needs to improve. I have a few (mostly organizational) problems with this:

  1. I’m usually not organized enough to print out half-sheet rubrics before the prompt (it’s just a normal class day)
  2. That’s a lot of paper because the prompt also needs to be printed, and it’s nice to let kids write on the back of the prompt itself.
  3. My handwriting is awful, especially when I have 140 papers to grade and comment on.
  4. I am a notorious paper-loser.

I have wanted to try some of the New Visions CloudLabs add-ons for Google Docs for a long time, but didn’t have a real need to. So, I dove into autoCrat because I knew it could take form data and push it over to a sharable and printable Google doc. It worked great, but it generates a separate doc for each student, which isn’t something I want to manage (I know I could use Doctopus in conjunction to make it easier, but I’m not at that point yet). What I really wanted was something to add new entries as a table to a class-level document. I could print those out, cut them into slips, and distribute.

Karl Lindgren-Streicher to the rescue.

docappender was definitely what I needed.

In my Drive, I created a folder with six empty documents simply labeled with the class hour. Then, I created a Form I could use to add the student’s name, their class hour, their score, and some comments.

Rubric form

Rubric form

docappender works by looking at your form for an identifying field (for me, class hour) and then finds the matching document in your folder.

Output after a form submit.

Output after a form submit.

Each time I submit a new score, the script runs and pops out a formatted rubric for the student. It’s great.

Now, I can have a class set of rubrics for students to use while writing, they can write on the back of the prompt (cut my paper use by 2/3), and they get a typed scoresheet back. I also have a digital record, so no keeping track of these papers.

We’re not one to one or GAFE right now, so I don’t worry about sharing with students. If we head that direction, you could easily go paperless using some of the other New Visions add-ons in conjunction with one another.

Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should

This weekend, our local over-the-air movie stations had a marathon of classic monster/science fiction movies. I watched a bit of King Kong (1976) with my daughter because you really can’t start too soon.

I immediately regret this decision.

Later, I swung back through and caught the beginning of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) – which, by the way, was the better of the two film versions. I caught the scene where Michael York and Burt Lancaster are discussing the ability to mix human and animal DNA:

Dr. Paul Moreau (Lancaster): How does a cell become enslaved to a form, to a destiny it can never change? Can we change that destiny?

Andrew Braddock (York): Should we?

Then, during the Super Bowl last night, I caught Chris Pratt asking the same question in the new Jurassic World trailer:

You just went and made a new dinosaur? Probably not a good idea.

Holy foreshadowing, Batman!

It reminds me of Jeff Goldblum’s similar line from the original:

John Hammond: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Oh, how our culture loves to ask rhetorical questions after the fact.

Tech in the classroom is in the same vein. Just because we can, should we?

Companies left and right are professing their capability of changing the way people learn through their brand-new-all-in-one-revolutionary-online-blended-learning-platform-sign-up-now pitches. Double bonus if it is built on brain science.

Just because we can put lessons online with videos and quizzes that work on all platforms doesn’t mean we should. But, we clamor for cross-platform compatibility and go to conferences to hear about the new stuff. Why aren’t we asking hard questions of the groups making the stuff?

Obligatory tech is important line yada yada.

Before diving into using the newest cool thing, stop and take a critical step backward. Is it really in your or your student’s best interest to take a ton of time and build a lesson on a new platform? What will they get out of it? Why is it better than whatever you had done before? How will you assess the growth because of the switch?

If we’re not asking these questions, we’re throwing our student’s education into the hands of the engineers. And we’re happy to do it, most times.

Maintain a critical eye. Hell, be cynical. It’ll protect you from doing something just because you can.

Okay, fine. This was a bad idea.