There are a plethora of teacher resignation letters on the Internet; I refuse to link to any of them, but they follow the same format: “I love teaching, I love my students, but I don’t like X, so I’m out.”
When I read them, I feel heartbroken that a dedicated educator allowed himself or herself to be pushed out of the classroom. One large problem is that teaching can be isolating; in my favorite dedication letter (or anti-resignation letter), Principal John Wick encourages teachers to support each other. Personally, last year I was ready to walk away from education. Thank God I had a supportive group of educators to give me perspective.
But in three weeks, I will no longer be a classroom teacher. I get my Masters in administration tomorrow, and yet I will be school-less. So why am I critical of quitters? Because leaving the classroom isn’t always quitting.
In any army worth its salt, you have multiple roles fighting on the same side. You not only have the soldiers, but you also have different ranks of leaders, logisticians, strategists, medics – there are different jobs even though the cause is the same. If everyone has the same role, you’re probably in a militia and not an army, and the odds are against you, my friend.
In education, we must have teachers, but not everyone can be a classroom teacher forever. Someone has to be the administrator, the superintendent, the commissioner, the director of special education, the RTI coordinator – we can go further into the edu-periphery if we get into teacher representation, lobbyists, legislators, education policy pundits, etc. One glaring issue is that many talented teachers refuse to leave the classroom, which leaves those with no teaching experience to fill the gaps of leaders, logisticians, and strategists – we call them Reformers.
When this occurs, despite the fact that the objective is the same, we vilify those who are not like us. The teacher says the reformer doesn’t know what teaching is really like. The reformer says the teachers are ineffective and don’t want to be held accountable. The teachers say the legislators don’t know what their laws look like in application. We’re losing the war against ignorance because we’re too busy to address legitimate issues that studies consistently prove are linked to achievement, like poverty and parent involvement; instead, we’re attacking each other.
I’m leaving the classroom to go fill a role that teachers want filled by teachers. I’m leaving to inspire maybe a little less friendly fire.
I hear so often, “I wish policy makers knew what it was like.” If you press many teachers to go take on that role, you’ll hear, “But I love the children; I just can’t leave the classroom.” Then what kind of administrator do you want? What kind of lobbyists should represent you? Someone who hates kids? Someone who sees these roles as better paying with longer lunches? Someone who equates education with a product that can be quality-controlled using value-added formulas? Or someone like you?
At every level I want to hear, “I _____ because I love children.”
-I supervise bus drivers because I love children and want them to get to school safely.
-I develop software because I love children and want them learning how to use technology.
-I supervise curriculum and instruction because I love children and want them to learn.
-I manage the district’s finances because I love children and want us to be able to afford supplies to teach them.
I’m leaving the classroom because I love children, and I want the teachers who work with them to be supported. I know what my talents are, and I see a need that I’ll fill well. I know how I want to support teachers, and I have an organization that is willing to let me try some new things.
I challenge you to examine your current role in education and determine if you’re filling the roles you could be. Could you be mentoring new teachers? Could you be sharing your resources better? Could you incorporate research on human development to design better schools or classroom equipment? Could you organize an edcamp? Are you in a leadership position and need to get back into the classroom or strengthen ties to classroom teachers?
If you plan to teach for forty years, I wish you the very best and I’m sure you’ll be amazing. But if any point you find another role you could fill, instead of hoping someone else would fill it, like I did for four years, I hope you take that opportunity yourself.