It has become its own internet genre-- the "why I am quitting" teacher letter. It is apparently on the rise again, because lately lots of folks have been forwarding examples to me. And I don't want to seem unsympathetic-- it has to suck to feel so backed into the corner that quitting looks like your best option.
But still, I long to read something different. Something feistier. Something more like this:
Dear Board of Education:
Just wanted you to know that I am not going any damn where.
Yes, a lot of people have worked hard to turn my job into something I barely recognize, and yes, I am on the butt end of a whole lot of terrible education policy, and yes, I am regularly instructed to commit educational malpractice in my classroom.
But here's the thing-- you don't pay me nearly enough for me to do my job badly, on purpose.
I'm not going to make children miserable on purpose. I'm not going to waste valuable education time on purpose. I'm not going to teach them that reading is a miserable activity with no purpose other than to prepare for testing. I'm not going to tell them that these big stupid tests, or any other tests, or grades, even, are an important measure of how "good" they are or how much right they have to feel proud or happy or justified in taking up space on this planet. I'm not going to tell them any of that.
Most of these new education reform policies are wrong. They're bad pedagogy, bad instruction, bad for students, bad for education, and we all know it. I am not going to spend another day in my room pretending that I don't know it.
Am I God's gift to teaching, so awesome that I never need to listen to anybody about anything? Not at all. It's a big, wide, complicated world, and I'll listen to anybody who thinks they have something to share about how children can be educated.
But here's the thing. I am a teacher. I am an education professional. I trained to do this job, and I have never stopped training and learning since I started on this path. This is my world. This is the work that I committed myself to. I live here, and that means I know more about this work than the edu-tourists just passing through.
And the work I am committed to is the education of young students, the work of having them become their best selves, of finding their best way to be in the world as they choose to be. I am not committed to a year of narrow test prep and a tiny, cramped definition of success. I am not committed to a view of compliance as the highest human virtue.I am not committed to the work of trying to force them into some box that the corporate world has built for them. My first allegiance, my first obligation is to my students-- not the board, not state education bureaucrats, not policy makers, not test manufacturers, not to people who think they need to know what's going on in the school but can't be bothered to get their butts here to use their own five senses to find out. I have no obligation to those who want to profit from my work, and I have no obligation to people who want to use my classroom to further their own political or financial agenda.
So I will stay here, and I will do what I consider-- in my professional opinion-- is best for my students and my community. When I am told to implement a bad policy, I will circumvent it by any means at my disposal. I will disregard directives to commit malpractice. I will question, I will challenge, and I will push back. I will speak at every board meeting. I will talk to every parent.
If you find this not-very-team-playery of me, you can direct me to follow orders in writing, and if I choose to follow those orders, my students and their parents will understand why I am doing it.
The best bet is that in ten years, I will still be here doing the work I'm committed to doing, and meanwhile, the corporate reformsters and the edu-crats at the capital and most of my building administrators and you, board members, whether you were elected or appointed-- all of those folks will have moved on, and I will still be here. Because-- and let me be absolutely clear-- I am serious about this work. This is not a stepping stone or a resume builder for me. I am in it for life.
Or if you like a sporty metaphor, try it this way-- this is my house. And you do not stroll into my house and disrespect me and the work I do.
Quitting?? Hell no. If you want me out of here, you will have to fire my ass, and I will make it just as public and loud as I can, so that you have to step out in front of the community and explain why you're doing it. Hell, we may all end up in court, going on the record about the crap you tried to force me to do to these children.
I mean, if I'm at the point of contemplating whether or not to quit, why not make my departure cost you a little something?
I came to teaching to work. I came to make a difference in children's lives. I came to raise up whatever students were set before me and help them become the people they were meant to be. And I came to stay. You'll have to decide how you want to deal with that. But I came to stay and teach.
Yes, I know. Not everyone is in the position to be this feisty and confrontational, and not every situation lends itself to this approach (and some fortunate few don't need it). I'm not advocating this for every single teacher up against it. And yes-- lots of teachers have adopted this "stay and fight" stance-- they just haven't written a letter announcing it.
As I said, I am not unsympathetic to those who quit. You can only take as much as you can take. But still, it would be fun if somebody, some day, forwarded me a good, feisty "Bite me-- I'm staying" letter.