Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Not Quitting Letter

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.


  1. Go on with your bad curmudgeon self. Cheers for this!


  3. Dear Mr. Greene:

    You have not said that this was actually delivered to a Principal or School Board. Making a big statement in a bar at about 11:00 different than making a big statement to your foreman on the assembly line at 11:00 a.m. Which is this?


    1. I put it on my Facebook, and I am friends with my local school board members, so think it's doing a lot of good, of that is what you are asking.


  5. Thank you. From a disgruntled school board member.

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  7. This is what we need to hear from teachers everywhere!!! Thank you!!!!!

  8. Yes! Slap my name on that letter and send it out! I'm in.

  9. Peter Greene, you are so totally awesome. Will you marry me? Sorry, we're both already happily doing that, but you really do rock!!!

  10. Peter, Post your letter here.

  11. It's 5:45 a.m. and this teacher is about to leave for work ready to face the day with even more feistiness. Love this. Love your spirit.
    Let's do this.

  12. Well done (as usual!).

    I post "I'm quitting" letters because I think it's important to let parents and the public know why the teachers their students learned from (sometimes more than one generation) can't take the fake-reform that is swallowing public education. It's important to highlight the reasons teachers are leaving the profession in such great numbers.

    However, it's also important, as you have shown us, to highlight the fact that millions of teachers are facing the "test and punish" insanity and continue to fight against it.

    We need both...

    Diane Ravitch, in her speech at Wellesley last month said it well. When asked "I'm a fourth grade teacher...what can I do?" she answered,

    “Keep within yourself the vision of what is right and what is ethical so that no matter what they tell you to do, even if you're forced to do it, know that it's wrong and don't ever forget what's right.”

  13. This is exactly what I was thinking--and saying--several years ago. Before I decided to leave a profession I loved. Because I could no longer put up with the monstrosity it had become: a Stalinist environment. Sure wish there were more people like you at the time.

  14. Thank you, Peter Greene!
    You speak for me, too.

  15. I have been teaching for 34 years and I refuse to give in to the reformsters. I teach because I love it and I care about children and how and what they learn. I see my role these days as the "squeaky wheel", while the adminisration sees me as the pain in the ass who refuses to go along with their stupid new ideas. I will continue to advocate for kids and to call a bad a idea a bad idea when I hear it. Teachers are NOT sheep. We need to speak up and be heard! 💪💪💪

  16. You are such a badass! "I will give you my chalk when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers."

  17. Peter: said like a true cog, pretending he's not a cog, mouthing off like he's more than a cog, wishing he WAS more than an obsolete cog, continuing the work of grinding up our children like a true cog. "I came to raise up whatever students were set before me and help them become the people they were meant to be" is proof of your cogginess. Set the raw material before the cog, run the pre-programmed stamping machine, and out spits the final indoctrinated, dependent, wounded, incapable, struggling, directionless, and duplicated product. And amazingly, I consider you one of the more conscious cogs! Imagine how the completely inconsiderate cogs operate (*pry chalk from cold, dead fingers*)?

    I'd have more respect for you if you did quit. If you are really truly interested in the well-being of children (and not your own dumb cog self and your destructive way of making money) you'd take a long hard look at what you are doing, what you are involved in, what the true consequences of your system is and how you are directly responsible for it's continued operation. You couldn't do better than quit. You are incapable of making the necessary changes in the system or even your classroom. It's not possible. You can pretend to buck the system, but you aren't really. No matter what you do in that classroom, the children are captive, doing things they don't want to do, forced to sit, listen, buy it, powerless. You can't set your students free in the slightest. You can't really give them back their power even. No matter how much you think you are supporting them, you are directing them, relieving them of their own compass. You can't even pretend. You know how it is.

    If you want to really do something for children, quit the machine and join the movements on the outside. Let the machine rust to dust. Let it fade out. Let it grind itself to pieces. As you must be painfully aware, people (adults and young people together) have created school communities where the children have full control of their education, are fully empowered. Adults are part of the community, but not as you know it, not as you "trained." Find these "schools," join them, support them, "raise up" the future the only way it can be raised: from within the individual.

    Not all of you cogs will be able to change your nature, change your mindset, change your needs. Some of you will fade out with the machine. It's ok. But you, Peter Greene, you could be a champion for youth, like you really desire, shake off the cog and be a champion, be remembered for actually freeing the youth, not just blabbing away your rusty old cog self as the grinding goes on, grinding in rust, to dust, our children to dust.

    Do it Peter, do it!

  18. What did John Paul Jones say? "I have not yet begun to fight?" Right now we are just sparring with words. The corporate education destruction derby doesn't want to find out----unless they are super stupid---what it means to really end up at war.

  19. YES!!! Right there with you - could have written this letter myself. Thank you for saying it loud and clear!

  20. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  21. Muddy,
    Can you please clarify the ethos and logos in your argument? Your 'muddy' argument is drowning in pathos. Poor fella'. I can overlook your angst and throw you a life saving device because I feel bad for you. So blind. So sad...

    1. How can it be any clearer? I rather like it actually. Guess point of view is relative, eh?

  22. So perfectly said. My thoughts exactly! I love the phrase "edutourists"

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