Leavers? You are wasting your breath.

I recently read a blog post from Josh Waldron, a teacher who is making a big deal out of the fact that he left the classroom this year (http://www.newsleader.com/story/opinion/columnists/2014/06/07/teachers-tough-decision-leave-classroom/10170567/). He is an award winning teacher–the reporters and columnists get that fact into every story. 

To me, this story is utterly tragic. In his explanation, Mr. Waldron offers many viable solutions about improvements in his educational community. Too bad that he isn’t sticking around to advocate for some of those changes. When teachers with critical consciousness and great ideas abandon the profession, we have no chance of reforming the education challenges we face today. I don’t blame this young man for his desire to provide for his family, quit his two side jobs, and enjoy life. But I shudder at teachers who think that their brief stand as a “leaver” will get enough publicity to make a difference. Leavers, people remember you for one day…maybe a week or a month. They whole heartedly say “that’s sad” or “he was a good teacher.” Then they forget about you. And who is in the classroom you left? Who knows. Who is taking care of those kids? Who knows. Hopefully it’s an experienced teacher. But maybe it’s not. 

I think that teachers are making some big mistakes. First off, they take national media personally and feel under-valued instead of seeing the bigger picture at play. This is not teachers vs. the public. The public is simply being persuaded by big business corporations that lobby for faulty educational policies that benefit themselves. When teachers take the feeling of being “unappreciated” personally, they dismiss the many caring families that believe in this profession. Crazy news like the tenure decision in California makes it seem like everyone is against teachers, but this is just a small portion of the country with lots of money at stake. Teachers, there is no more time for wallowing in frustration, declaring martyrdom, or complaining in the lunch room. Teachers absolutely must go out and engage their communities in this dialogue. If teachers don’t start engaging the community, then the community will never learn the real story.

I have been so shocked this last year as I have learned more about educational policy. I used to believe that everyone cared about kids and cared about education. (Because this is my view of the world). When I heard people talk about neoliberalism and the push to monetize education and profit from kids, I thought the idea was jaded and paranoid. Reading educational policy this last year has really opened my eyes. I have especially enjoyed David Berliner & Gene Glass’ book “50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. (This book is a great read if you are looking for an overview of the myths attacking education today). My teacher-heart wants to believe that all people care about kids, but I am learning to accept that there truly is a battle going on for public schools. If teachers deny that there are people trying to profit from our kids, we are simply overlooking the war. Our kids can’t fight and parents don’t realize they need to. Teachers, you’re the only army we’ve got. Like it or not, teachers you are at the front lines of the battle. What are you doing to help others learn more the TRUTHS about education, the experiences happening in your classrooms, and your vision of what teaching should look like?

Don’t make the mistake of this young man. His story will be gone in a few weeks after people stop reposting it on Facebook. Some people will even vilify him, saying that he must not really care about teaching since he left the profession. I don’t say that. I say that these decisions are sad and frustrating. Teachers face the struggle of working in an education system that conflicts with some of our personal values: high stakes testing, pay for teacher performance, and Race to the Top. We are inundated with things in our profession that conflict with our personal values. Teachers aren’t competitors and we aren’t fighters. We are nurturers at heart. The idea of battle makes me queasy and tired because it doesn’t align with my beliefs about the world. It takes an intentional decision to stay. 

In my district this year, I started a book club for social advocacy (a gathering of people to learn more about the greater context of education, determine ideas for our district, and carry them into the community). I got lots of verbal support and encouragement, but only one teacher signed up to attend. There were lots of excuses about people being too busy. (As a full-time teacher, full-time doctoral student, I know what that is like). But I see the new things coming like Value Added Models that are going to damage the profession further. I’m tired right now, but I don’t want to see the crazy future of teacher competition lined up for us. Education is not a free market and kids don’t benefit from schools closing. Teachers need to get involved now before things get worse.

I’m not saying that I signed up to be a teacher to fight for education. I never knew that I was going to have to do that. I thought that I would be here to nurture kids and build relationships with families. I don’t accept the new job description willingly, but I don’t accept what is happening to education in our country either. Teachers have been drafted into an unexpected war, but desertion is not the appropriate response. Fight on teachers. But most importantly, tell others that there is a war out there. 

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