The Tough Decision to Leave the Classroom

As the title of this post suggests, I have made the tough decision to leave the classroom for good at the end of this school year.

The decision is a painful one — both personally and professionally. It is also a public one, as I’ve been honored as recently as last month by the Waynesboro Rotary Club as its 2014 High School Teacher of the Year, my fourth such honor in six years.

In that respect, I feel an explanation is in order, as well as a prescription for what we — as a community — can do to right the ship.

Every workplace has its imperfections and challenges. I accept that. But public education is painted as a career where you make a difference in the lives of students. When a system becomes so deeply flawed that students suffer and good teachers leave (or become jaded), we must examine how and why we do things.

Waynesboro is small enough that we can tackle some of the larger problems that other school systems can’t. I want this piece, in part, to force a needed, collective conversation.

In doing so, I don’t want to come across as prideful or arrogant. I simply want my neighbors and friends to understand the frustrations at issue and what’s at stake for the next round of teachers and students.

When I came to this area in 2008, I believed I would be a teacher for life. My wife and I signed a lease on an apartment we had never seen and arrived only a few days before school started. Words can’t really express how excited I was to land a teaching job, work with high school students, and invest in teenagers the way one teacher invested in me.

That first year coincided with the first round of school budget cuts. Salaries were frozen and spending was slashed. This basic storyline has repeated itself for the five years that followed.

Over this time, I’ve lost my optimism and question a mission I once felt wholly committed to.

I still care deeply about students. I’ve worked hard to brighten their day while giving them an enjoyable and rigorous environment in which to learn. If this job was just about working with students, I couldn’t ask for a better or more meaningful career.

The job, though, is about much more. And I have very real concerns about the sustainability of public education in Waynesboro (and as a whole).

To make a real difference in the lives of students, raise the quality of life in greater Waynesboro, and attract and keep life-changing teachers, we must address five key areas:

1. Tear Down the Hoops
Our teachers spend far too much time jumping through hoops.

Every year, our district invents new goals (such as “21st Century Skills”), measuring sticks (most recently a “Growth Calculator”), time-consuming documentation (see “SMART goals”), modified schedules (think block scheduling and an extended school day), and evaluations (look in our seventy-two page “Teacher Performance Plan”).

As a district, we pretend these are strategic adjustments. They are not. The growth calculator was essentially brought forward out of thin air, SMART goals are a weak attempt to prove we’re actually doing something in the classroom, etc. Bad teachers can game any system; good teachers can lose their focus trying to take new requirements seriously.

These hoops have distracted me from our priority (students). I’ve concluded it’s no longer possible to do all things well. We need to tear down these hoops and succeed clearly on simple metrics that matter.

Over the past six years, I can’t remember a time where something was taken off my plate. Expectations continue to increase and we play along until we invent new hoops.

On a personal level, with 100+ students a year, a growing family, and two side jobs, I can no longer be a good teacher and do all the system expects of me.

2. Have a Plan for the Future
I stepped into the classroom around the time of a major worldwide recession. As the individuals and institutions responsible for this recession escaped accountability for their actions, school districts like ours went into survival mode.

Six years later, we’re still there. We have no plan for the future.

Earlier this year, the school board held its annual budget meeting. I left my second job early to attend and asked board members one simple question: “Is there any cause for optimism?” Each school board member, searching for a silver lining, effectively answered “no” by the time their reasoning caught up with them.

These basic mantras seem to govern what we do:

Just do the best you can.
We need to do more with less.
There’s no money in the budget for that.
We’re hoping things look better next year.

I don’t fault our district for a worldwide economic downturn. I do fault it for how it’s handled it. For six years in a row, we’ve cut, cut, cut. And for six years in a row, students and teachers have paid the biggest price.

When times are tough, human beings and institutions have the rare opportunity to reflect and refocus, to think differently and creatively. But instead of seizing the opportunity and gathering stakeholders for collective conversations and solution building, we’ve wandered around aimlessly hoping to make ends meet.

We should have a clear plan for sustainability. Instead, we’re really just worried about balancing the budget.

When we have a desperate need like football bleachers that have to be replaced, or turfgrass that isn’t up to par, we somehow find the money. We — through public or private avenues — meet those needs. Why can’t we find funds to address the areas that seem more pertinent to our primary mission?

3. Scrap Obsession with Flawed Assessments
I’ve seen teachers cry over Standards of Learning scores. I’ve seen students cry over SOL scores. I’ve seen newspaper and TV reports sensationalize SOL scores. These are all indications of an unhealthy obsession with flawed standardized tests.

SOL tests are inherently unfair, but we continue to invest countless hours and resources in our quest for our school to score well. This leads me to the following questions:

  • Do we care more about student progress or our appearance?
  • Why can’t we start a movement to walk away from these tests?
  • Why can’t we shift our focus to critical thinking and relevant educational experiences?

It’s tough to acknowledge that people in Washington, D.C., and Richmond (and sometimes decision makers in Waynesboro) develop systems and policies that affect my students and me negatively. But as they retire and sail off into the sunset, we’re the ones left with the consequences of ineffective measurements and strategies.

Our new teacher evaluations focus heavily on test scores. But while teachers are continually under pressure to be held accountable, there seems to be very little accountability for parents, the community, or district offices.

It’s only going to get worse, and it seems that we have no intention of taking a stand or advocating against flawed assessments. Instead, we have submitted ourselves to these tools that misrepresent student growth. It is a game, and it is a game I no longer wish to play.

4. Build a Community That Supports Education
Stop by the high school for a sporting event (and I love sports) and you’ll be impressed with the attendance and enthusiasm. Stop by the high school on a parent-teacher night and you’ll see tumbleweed blowing through the halls.

If parents and local decision-makers really value education (and there is a small portion of the community that does), student and teacher morale would be much different.

Our school and political leaders must help build a community that truly supports education. A real investment from residents across all neighborhoods and groups would change the climate immensely and allow us to truly tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

Unfortunately, the community seems disengaged with such struggles and more concerned with whether or not we’ll ever land an Olive Garden.

Until the community boosts its value of education…

  • How can we provide high quality to all students?
  • How can we build strong academic programs that meet student needs?
  • How can we prepare students to be productive citizens?
  • How can we successfully partner with parents and others?

If we can’t reflect the values of our mission statement, then we need to change our mission statement.

We simply can’t move forward when there is such little community connection to our educational goals. And if we can’t move forward together, I don’t want to tread water alone.

5. Fairly Compensate Educators
Compensation alone has not pushed me away from education. At the same time, the years of salary and step freezes have taken a toll.

If educators are as valuable as we claim they are (our district website says we “strive to hire and retain quality employees”), then we would make sure we take care of employees and their families. We must fairly compensate educators.

Keeping a sixth year teacher on a first year salary is not looking out for someone who looks out for students. For those like me, there’s only a $100 difference in our December 2009 and January 2014 monthly paychecks.

My wife and I live on a very strict budget. We are thankful for the quality of life we enjoy compared to other people in the world and try to keep things in their proper perspective. But the only financial reason I can afford to keep teaching is because of two side businesses and the generosity of family and friends. I’m not the only educator who manages extra work to make ends meet. Here are some efforts we’ve made to make this job sustainable:

  • We lived with one car (a car that was given to us) for 4 ½ years. During that time, I walked or rode my bike to school to save on gas. We recently bought a second car with money I saved from my web design business.
  • We rarely eat out and maintain our own garden to cut down on food costs.
  • We bought a $114,000 house that needed lots of work. This kept our mortgage payments in the $700 range, which is about what it would cost to rent a decent apartment.
  • We haven’t taken a vacation since I started teaching six years ago.

I love Waynesboro. I’m rooting for Waynesboro’s success. But there needs to be real, quantifiable change if we’re going to create a bright future for everyone.

A love for students and teaching drove me for the past six years. Now I’m watching my own kids grow up and am starting to think more and more about my own family.

What will I have to show for myself 10 years from now when I’ve missed crucial time with my own kids to barely break even and exist in a place where educators aren’t really valued? What happens when I dedicate my life to a place only to discover I’m part of their 10th round of budget cuts?

We need answers. I hope this can move us one step closer to asking the questions that will get us there.

Josh Waldron


Add yours
  1. 1

    With nine years service and a M.Ed., my salary has stayed at the starting amount offered when I was hired.
    Since then, the district has raised that offering amount $3K, but not mine.
    At the end of this year, district made a big deal of “decompressing” salaries.
    I will get a “raise” to what they are now offering anyone with any BA off the street.
    I had to rescind my retirement for this year on learning the district does not pay out accumulated leave (130 days for me) to teachers with less than ten years service.

  2. 2
    sharon kinsey

    Josh, beautifully written and sadly all true. I am 61, a retired attorney, and about to begin my 3rd career in teaching. I don’t need much to live on and it is a good thing because I won’t get much! I am working on a Masters and plan to continue with a Phd. What makes me really, really mad is that the people who makes the biggest difference in our everyday lives – teachers, police, firemen, etc. always are at the bottom of the barrel in pay. Yet the people who do the least for society – anyone in sports – gets the most money. What’s up with that? Well, what’s up with that is the the public does not insist that the inequities be solved. Everytime we pay to see a sports team play, or buy their merchandise or even watch on TV we are supporting the problem. As a nation, we must raise our voices and vote with our wallets and our voices. It is the only solution. Also, the community should scrutinize the pay scales of the administrators who are saying “we must do more with less.” Are they? Should someone who sits in an offiice and pushes paper make more money than the person shaping the future of our children? I don’t think so. And if you look long and hard at the issues of standards, you will find that the impetus begins and ends with the companies who stand to gain the most from implementation of these standards – those that write the tests and the test prep materials. And what qualifications do they have?

    When even one child reaches high school and can’t read – that is criminal and someone must pay – and it isn’t the teacher who has 100 plus students, no teaching assistant, no budget, and no time. But it is not just one student – it is hundreds – thousands. So – what are you doing this weekend? Watching baseball or basketball?

  3. 3
    Leslie M

    My DH has taught 21 years at our local middle school. The heaping on of hoops and lack of discipline and respect is causing him to look for something else too. Sad situations.

  4. 4

    Well written piece Josh and spot on with so many points. Bo doubt your loss will be felt and the school, division and district will be weaker as a result. I wish you well and maybe one day, you’ll return. Each time we are told by the unknowing to do the impossible for the unwilling with next to nothing, more damage is done. Teachers are being exhausted and that is having a dire consequence on our the educational environment. As a beginning, I strongly encourage those with influence to appreciate the value of the teaching force in this nation and yolk its strength in a less consumptive way.

  5. 5

    The thing that frustrates me about almost every single debate like this that I read is how few people have even the slightest idea of the actual scope of what teachers and school districts are asked to deal with. I’ve been to schools that can’t get the funding to rewire a school building from the 1970s. They might not even have more than one socket in a classroom. But the politicians in charge of that state pass laws that require computers in every classroom. I’ve been to schools where the roof is literally caving in, but any extra funding they can get from the state is earmarked for whatever improvement is in vogue at the state capital.
    I’ve been to schools where teachers spend their own money on classroom equipment the district can’t afford. I’ve been to schools where there were literally twice as many kids as desks in a class period. I’ve been to schools where entire classes were taught in portable classrooms with no insulation in subzero weather.
    I don’t know of a single school that isn’t working around something there isn’t enough money to address. I don’t know of any teacher that hasn’t had to MacGyver *something* just to do their job at a basic level. And I know so few teachers who are content with the basic level.

  6. 6

    Josh, thanks for being public with your thoughts and situation, it may be more helpful to Wboro than just quitting and leaving. However, I have been in Wboro, for 22 years, our kids went to the high school, and I believe that the school system is reflective of the governance style of the town. People tell me, “wait”, it’s getting better, and I say, “I have waited.” The voters here will not vote for tax increases. This makes Wboro very underfunded, actually too strapped for any improvements except when it gets grants. City council just rejected a proposal to raise property tax by 2 cents – total cost to typical homeowner for a year, just about equal to a steak dinner. Sigh.

  7. 7
    scott Trevathan

    I taught high school math for 40 years and retired two years ago. I enjoyed the first 35 or 36. The last 4 or 5 were not enjoyable. I agree with most everything that was said in this blog. If I were starting out again, I would not be a teacher again. Up until about 5 or 6 years ago, I would never have made that statement.

  8. 8

    Thanks for this very articulate and thought-provoking post. I’m studying education policy and want to make policy myself some day – in other words, I’ll be one of the people dreaming up accountability metrics applied to teachers and schools. I agree with what you’re saying about superfluous paperwork and “strategic initiatives” and too much emphasis on standardized testing. At one point in this post you write “We need to tear down these hoops and succeed clearly on simple metrics that matter.” Please tell me what metrics you have in mind! I want to genuinely support and enable great teaching as a policymaker, but I don’t know what kind of policies will best do that. Thus, I would greatly appreciate more detail on the metrics you think are most relevant for improving schools.

  9. 11

    Thank you for sharing Josh. I too decided to resign this year due to exactly everything you so well articulated. I taught special education for a total of 11 years and just couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve never felt better, have my peace of mind back, and have enjoyed reconnecting with my own children. I was a dedicated, intelligent, hard working teacher with advanced degree. What a shame to be forced to walk away.

  10. 12

    Very well written post. I agree with everything you’ve written and as a former teacher cannot reiterate enough the sad decline of the quality of the profession because of the lack of support from everywhere. It drains you on every level and I chose not to invest in it anymore. The day I handed in my resignation was one of the most peaceful days of my life. I have not regretted it since. I am sorry for the students because all the motivating, inspirational teachers who start their profession with such hope and enthusiasm are crushed way too early and what does this mean for the students?

  11. 13
    Melissa Swift Lohr

    Very well written, Josh! I agree with you…I had just decided to leave the classroom as well. I know how difficult of a decision that is. Good luck with your future endeavors!

  12. 14
    Rachel Wynn, SLP (@graymattertx)

    I get this. I started my career in education. Now I work as a speech-language pathologist in skilled nursing facilities. Education and healthcare have some of the same struggles. It’s so frustrating, because we NEED education and healthcare to succeed. Rather than leaving, I’m advocating for better elder care and am an activist for better workplace environments for rehab therapists. Learn more about my work here It’s slow. It’s frustrating, but people like you and I can’t leave. We’re among the best. We really care. I encourage you to use the popularity you’ve gained from this post to advocate for change. Start in your community, city, state… We need more change makers.

  13. 15
    John Ceneviva

    I appreciate your honesty and dedication. Although I was never an award-winning teacher, I put a lot of effort and persistence into the task. What frightens me is the number of people who are reading this and agreeing. I’d imagine that there are hundreds or thousands of teachers who agree but don’t post a comment or re-post your blog.
    Who allowed the school boards this power to ruin so many lives under these budgetary constraints? Who permitted well-meaning but misguided state administrations to test our students above and beyond any reasonable limits?
    None of this bodes well for America.

  14. 16
    Greg Bell

    I wish you had stayed and simply not done any of the bureaucratic, soul-sucking b.s. I wish you had just started saying “no” and waited for them to fire you – a dedicated, celebrated teacher. Then you could have gone to the press with an even more interesting / sad story.

    If enough teachers started saying “no” to the idiots and politicians, we might get somewhere.

  15. 17
    Patrice Humpherys

    Couldn’t agree more; I only wish I could leave but it is both funny and sad that I can’t afford to do so. (and even more sad that I wish I could leave). I just finished my 15th year in Fairfax County and the grass is not greener here. We, the teachers who give a flying crap, continue to jump through the bureaucratic hoops. I just got done spending probably 20-30 hours compiling everything for this evaluation process….it is ridiculous. Then, they wonder why we are all discouraged when I have to prove that I am good despite 11 snow days, only 5 make up days (3 are happening NEXT week after the SOLs are already done), and an SOL test that occurs 3 weeks before we are out of school….oh yeah, I also teach an adaptive World History I course for ESOL (or ELLs, LEP, ESL….or whichever new name they are given these days) which only amplifies my issues.

    The plight of our system is scary. I’m glad you have an alternative. It is a sad day when apparently great teachers like yourself have to walk away because they give us a fixed deck to play with and wonder why we can’t keep up.

    I can’t praying one of these days someone, somewhere will start to listen….it’s frustrating. Best of luck to you!

  16. 18
    Kele Lampe

    Thank you for writing this. My husband is going through this same thing right now. Teaching is (was?) a second career for him. When he wanted to leave construction and go back to school to follow his dream, I encouraged him. I want him to be happy. But over the last years, I’ve seen him become more and more depressed, question his worth and his ability to do anything. The politics of education is driving away the best teachers, and students are paying the price.

  17. 19
    Dan Price

    Dear Quitter:

    In my second career now I have been a teacher for 11 years. My wife has been a teacher for 19 years. My sister has been a teacher for 26 years. My two great aunts were teachers for their entire careers of 40+ years each. Never, ever did I hear any one of them, any of my colleagues, or any other teacher for that matter, tell me what a great “job” teaching is or was. Never. Hell, one year our PTA gave every teacher a goodie bag that included a bottle of Tylenol among other things.

    Take off your rose colored glasses and look at reality: Many of your co-workers “chose” education because they couldn’t get in to med school or even pass Engineering 101. Your school is run by people who (1) probably never intended to become educators and (2) who were so dissatisfied with working in the classroom that they became administrators. Your local government is run by people who are “education experts” because they went to school… From the time of the one room school house to today, at what point was teaching EVER a good “job”? It’s a shitty job. Always has been, and always will be for anyone who thinks of it as such.

    The point for me (and all dedicated teachers) is that I — “I” make a difference. “I” figure out how to plug 24 computers in to a single outlet. “I” inspire kids with little more than imagination and a shoestring budget. “I” put on the best damn show I can EVERY day because I believe in education. I love kids. You do, too. I go to the dog and pony show they call accountability, not because it’s important, but because my name is on the list just like everyone else’s and I don’t want mine to be highlighted in pink.

    Wake up. The walls don’t teach. Electrical outlets don’t teach. Standardized tests don’t teach. Bureaucratic hoops don’t teach. Who gives a crap if the building is falling down? (Yeah, I put the trash can under the hole in the roof whenever it rains.) Who cares if the standardized test scores suck? (They won’t if your kids believe in you.) You can jump through hoops. (You COULD jump like an Olympic athlete, but why??? Don’t you have better things to do???) You can bullshit with the best of them. It’s a game. They know it. You know it. We all know it.

    Still a quitter? You are good with words. You have a pretty web site. You are probably a good web designer. (I am guessing Word Press or Joomla helped out a bit.) You could have a “job” and build pretty web sites all day long. (A lot of my friends in the industry lost jobs to web designers in India.) You’re probably a heluva lot better teacher.

    Now, re-affirm your vow of poverty (you took one of those when you signed your teaching contract), forward this letter to your newspaper, next year’s parents, anybody that will listen, or better yet — anybody who will help! Now get back in there and BE the best damn teacher you can be.

  18. 20

    I’m sorry that you decided to give up on something you once felt so passionately for. Teachers are vital to our success as a society. First, let me say that I cannot speak to the issue of testing in our public schools. However, I do want to touch on the financial issues raised in your piece and by commenters who have griped about compensation/budgets in our schools. I think teachers often forget that their salaries are paid with taxes collected by their districts which are directly related to wages earned by residents. From a basic math perspective, how can any district provide salary increases or additional benefits for its employees if it collects less in taxes year over year? Private sector employees have been dealing with stagnate wages and benefit reductions since at least 2008. These are problems faced by most workers today, not just teachers. I hope you find satisfaction in the private sector, but it’s tough out there.

  19. 21
    Paula Ramirez

    I retired early from teaching two years ago and when I was teaching, I would leave the profession every 5 or 6 years because I was physically and mentally exhausted from the very system that you are describing, Josh. I was an excellent teacher and administrator during my time, but faced so many obstacles.

  20. 22
    Lynn A.

    Very well written and oh so true! I have been an educator for the past 14 years first in Virginia and now in North Carolina. My job has become unbearable! Teaching used to be my dream job, but my dream job is now my nightmare!

    I spent an average of 25% of my time this past school year testing. I realized the severe consequences of this excessive testing on my students when I called one over to test and he slammed his head into the table and said, “Again!” This, coming from a 7 year old, is criminal! No child should be put through these insane tests and no teacher should be forced to administer them. I spent so much time testing that I sent my 2nd graders to 3rd grade unprepared. I had no choice. Many days, I had to skip teaching to test. I dread going back this fall and being forced to do it all over again.

  21. 23
    Barry Davis

    I have been teaching for 15 years in Hampton, VA. Your experience is not unique, and I have found myself questioning my commitment to this profession. I have seen many leave over the years, and this year a large number have left the profession all together or went to other school districts in VA or other states. My passion for history & working with high school students is what is keeping me committed at times. May God bless your future endeavors, and may your words here speak to the hearts of those who we elect to lead our state government.

  22. 24

    Very well written, thank you for your organized description of life in schools. As an occupational therapist working in special ed from preschool through high school I see many wonderful teachers shouldering the load of too much paperwork, too many meetings and too few parents with thankful words. Each year I try to send a “letterhead quality” note to at least one principal with examples of how a teacher performs extraordinary work in the classroom; but I neglected to do it this year. I’ll have to write an extra one next year because there certainly are more than enough teachers who deserve it. It won’t bring them a merit raise, but I hope they will hold in their hearts the memory that someone noticed and was thankful for them.

  23. 25

    I have taught for twelve years, and I have never felt like a piece so clearly articulated the very real problems teachers face every day. The emotional toll teaching takes on teachers and families can be difficult to manage. I think burn-out is a real risk (as is, frankly speaking, addiction. I know many teachers who are concerned about their wine intake–for real.) It’s hard not to worry about students’ futures, their physical and emotional health and well-being, and their educational skills and progress. This is, of course, on top of the stress of extra hours of grading, planning, and taking care of their own families. It is a very different kind of stress than working in the private sector (I have done that as well). And there is always backlash whenever a teacher raises legitimate concerns about idiotic bullshit (SOLs, SMART goals, county “initiatives” and training, pacing guides, data, data, data) that carry very real consequences for teachers and students. This backlash is from other teachers (“suck it up,” “quit griping,” etc.), taxpayers, parents, and administrators. I’m a teacher. I’m a taxpayer. I’m a parent. And the reality is this: we cannot keep doing what we’re doing and expect good results. It’s past time to critically examine our educational system and decide how to address some legitimate concerns. This article offers some insight into some of the problems we, as teachers, face daily. And none of us feel free to speak about it until we leave the profession. Best of luck in your new venture, Josh. Thanks for injecting a little sanity into the discussion.

  24. 26

    Josh I can truly understand whatyou are saying,. I retired after 27+ years of teaching. I was tired of jumping through hoops and playing games. Tne amount of paperwork kept increasing and the time to teach seemed to be shrinking due to the increase in hoops. Too much time is spent having to parent students because their parents do not parent. More money is spent on sports than in the classroom and parents and community members are more likely to raise an uproar over a cut to hockey or football than teacher cuts or elective class cuts. Many parents get more upset over a snow day than a failing a grade because heaven forbid they have to find a babysitter. Parents do not come to conferences and even if thy do they talk the talk, but do not walk the walk. Kids who do not have money for basic school supplies come in wearing $100+ shoes and have money for the junk food machines or the latest phone, which many teachers cannot afford. I had students who asked me for change for a hundred dollar bill and they were surprised I did not have change as I was a teacher I made the big bucks. HAHA! Big buck, I wish. The community does not realize the money we put out for recertification, classes to recertify, and for classroom supplies. They seem to think it is all there and that we don’t really work that hard as we get summers off. They have not been there when we are at school at midnight making copies or grading papers or writing IEPs for special ed sudents, or at home doing many of these activities. They seem to think our job is SO EASY. Cuts raise class sizes which make teaching more of a wrestling match as we have to deal with crowd control rather than teach. I have been in 6th grade classrooms with 36+ students where you had to ask students to stand up and push in their chairs so you could get to the student who needed help. I have been in classrooms with 35+ high school students many of whom were hyperactive boys with no room to move so they are bothering everyone around them and I have spent more time trying to deal with behavior issues than I have trying to teach them to write a sentence. Students who are highly gifted and students who are so severely handicapped they need constant one-on-one care crowded into small rooms with inadequate heating, lighting, and too few textbooks do not make for a good learning environment. It simply becomes babysitting. Last year my husband had a class of students who simply wanted to play. They were interested in learning, or doing anything that could be considered work. They came to school simply to socialize and play. These were 8th graders. They were so far behind in school that they have no hope of getting a diploma and graduating and will probably drop out. It is sad to see how the future of our country has been hung out to dry with all the cuts to education. We are failing our country and our kids. Our governments, country, state, and city need to wake up and see that they are not helping our kids, they are hurting them. I think we need to institure a uniform policy, and allow corporal punishment in some cases as well as fully fund education and limit class sizes in all grades to 20 students. We also need to stop all this social emotional learning garbage and go back to a more rigourous and basic curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic with science, art and music and stop all the crap about we will hurt their feelings. I also think we need to tighten the reins of welfare but that topic is for another day.

  25. 27

    Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate expression that so many of us have felt. I, too, was a high school teacher who left the joy of working with some wonderful students 10 years ago. I hope your actions and words find sympathetic ears to move those in power to action.

  26. 28
    Cyndi Powell

    Josh, I am so sorry that you are leaving teaching, but I totally understand. Your family deserves having a father that is present and you deserve appropriate compensation for your job.
    My own father gave up teaching many years ago, for many of the same reasons. He was not around much because of the demands of his job and the stupid hoops that teachers have to go through. He also took on an extra job just to make ends meet. Add to that all the disrespect, hateful language and behavior from parents and kids, and the lack of support from the school authorities, community and others; it makes teaching become a mental and physical health issue that is bad for the teacher and everyone around the teacher.
    All of this combined is a large part of why I never became a teacher and seriously counsel young adults that think they want to become a teacher. I wish you and your family well in your future. You did not give up, the education system gave up on helping and supporting you a long time ago.

    Best wish, Cyndi Powell

  27. 29
    Jim Ward Morris

    My current thoughts on education. As a teacher and as a parent, I can not abandon (for financial reasons) the public school system completely, but I can be present, and work towards change. It is true we live in a society where educators aren’t really valued…but we all have to admit responsibility for that in some way. When I was in high school I joined a group called the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). As students we worked with teachers (at least the ones that where willing to work with us) and together we made changes in our school. I was eventually kicked out of my high school and finished at a continuation school over in the the next town, but we did not turn our back on our school we just mixed it up !! Maybe public schools need our help to make these kind of changes again. Parents, teachers, and students may need to take over. Public schools may need to be placed in the hands of people who really care about organic-education and removed from the hands of people who only care about standardized-testing-education. Of course as tax-payers and home-owners we all have to be on board with paying more for education. I don’t have answers just progressive hopes.

  28. 30

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and frustrations. My wife and I both teach internationally. After teaching in America for a couple years, these are the exact reasons why we do not see ourselves returning anytime soon. Our current school takes care of all 5 of the things you listed. We teach students from over 20 different countries. The are extremely hard workers, want to learn, and a joy to work with. As like you, I got into teaching to make a difference in the lives of these students, teach them an appreciation for math, and that is truly what my job consists of, rather than all the hoop jumping. Another major perk (but not why I do it) is the quality of life and financial benefits. With only 6 years of experience, we saved 70K this past year, traveled the world, and look forward to going back to school after summer break. This upcoming year, my school will foot the bill for me to travel to Japan, China, and Malaysia with my students.
    They pay for our children’s tuition, provide retirement, yearly allowance to travel home every year and much more. I highly recommend you look into it. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

  29. 31

    Josh, I was in the same position 6 years ago. Broke, broke, in danger of being laid off, and disenchanted until my friend recommended that I look into going overseas. Everything that Ryan mentioned is true (it depends on the country/region). I save/send home more money than I netted in Colorado and traveled to more than 20+ countries in 5 years. I just paid off $80k in student loans too. You get the same time off and more respect. You would most likely be hired very quickly. Good luck in your endeavours.

  30. 32
    Tom S.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I too have just left my position as a middle school CTE teacher. I have been wanting to find something else for a few years, but I finally decided enough is enough. I was teaching in the great state of NC where teacher pay is ranked 48 out of 50. 5 years teaching in NC my salary did not increase once, but the cost of living has, my class sizes have. In a way I feel every year I was taking a pay cut.

    With the cost of living on the rise, how do districts expect to keep any good teachers? No one will be able to afford to stay. I know that teachers do not go into teaching for the money, but people should be thinking about the future of their families. I do not think we will see career teachers like we have in the past. The days of 30+ years in the profession are long gone.

  31. 33

    As a teacher myself, I tend to personalize the education system flaws and cultural issues you’ve highlighted. It’s helpful to gain perspective through the observations of others, and I found your post ironically encouraging. While this was personally gratifying, that’s likely not the reason you wrote. I hope your words reach the right eyes, those in positions to create the changes for which you’ve called.

    I started teaching high school math in 2010, fresh out of college and planning to teach forever. It only took 2 years to ruin my mental and physical health and leave me unable to work or function for about a year. By God’s grace, I now teach at the college level, where I am privileged to still work with students while remaining somewhat distanced from the front-lines turmoil. (Though I’m not naive enough to believe this will last, and I worry for colleges as well.) I deeply admire teachers who can work within the chaotic, flawed system and still retain their sanity and passion. I could not.

    I consider myself to be fighting this battle from a different angle. I have one, last chance to teach students in a more relaxed environment as they come out from under the oppression of the secondary school system. Without the pressures of standardized testing and the paperwork load, I have freedom to teach. We have time to talk about the future, the value of learning, and the importance of an education. If any of this sinks in or resonates with values they already hold, then perhaps the students will become the parents and policy-makers who create the changes that are needed. Perhaps not, but I have to hope.

    As I read through some of the negative (though rationally stated) comments, I kept thinking of the obvious in-flight instructions: “Please secure your own air mask before assisting others.” To tell you to “buck up” or to stop whining might be the answer for some teachers, but it’s not the answer for everyone. You cannot fight for your students and for change if you have sacrificed your family and your health. To some, this looks like quitting or failure. The testimony of your students and your own conscience should tell you otherwise.

    But on the off chance that you’re reading those comments or listening to your own discouraged thoughts, I wanted to share my story and add my best wishes to the hundreds of others that have been posted. It’s clear that you’re not giving up on students, and I’m sure you’ll carry your concern and heart for them out the classroom door. May you experience peace as you go through this transition with your family, and as God leads you to wherever He wants you next.

  32. 35

    Home schooled children are winning the college scholarships. Wonder why?
    Book stores are closing. Amazon sells over 2,000,000 titles now. Wonder why?
    Our Kindle libraries often contain more books than our physical libraries. Wonder why?
    Why are we changing so rapidly? Trying to improve! I hope.

  33. 36

    Josh…I was very much transfixed to what you were saying. Your points all well made and true. I am concerned we are losing the “best” teachers, those who can transform the lives of students because of a system that is just cognizant of anything other than self-preservation. Three of us are in the process of writing a book about why teachers are leaving the field…and would like to interact with you and others about: (1) the problem; (2) the experiences; (3) what would keep promising, bright, great teachers to stay in the field; (4) solutions and projections. We are at a very formative stage…and it is our thought we would like to not make a book that is merely gripes…but to share the situation and see what ideas can be created to overcome the migration of great teachers, like you, out of the profession.

  34. 37

    Ugh. i am so tired of hearing teachers (and former teachers) bitch and moan about `the system` as if somehow they were not a part of it. You ARE part of the system and thereforee, BOTH part of the problem AND the solution! Bitching and wishing accomplish NOTHING without positive, constructive ACTION based on good ideas and alternatives. In what other areas of your personal lives do you get to change something by simply complaining about it? Ususally, to get positive results as you see them, you have to replace a bad idea or practice with well-thought out alternative or approach. It`s true: Teachers are extremely valuable members of our society as are cops and firemen and military servicemen, to name only a few. The difference is that they don`t publicly bitch nearly as much as teachers do about their lot in life, how they are compensated, or not being appreciated. GET REAL and try, just TRY a little humility and graditude (you GET to work with CHILDREN, not A-Hole adults!), and try to understand that it is difficult to make ends meet for MOST OF US out there. Be grateful you have a job…a VERY GOOD job with EXCELLENT BENEFITS and JOB SECURITY which few CHOSEN professions have. Sure, teaching has its challenges and frustrations, but what line of work doesn`t? So teachers, a little gratitude, huh? And how about being PROGRESSIVE members of your respective unions and paricipate as members of a profession that posses dignity and good ideas — or at least elect reps who have these attributtes — and pressure your administrators and politicians to examine the folly of their initiatives AND present sensible alternatives. If teachers unions did this instead of focusing solely on gettinng their membership better wage and career guarantees — and therefore, line their own coffers — then maybe they would be viewed more positively by the public who, also struggles to make mortgage payments and put their kids through college. And maybe, just maybe you might see some positive results. Small children moan, cry, or quit because they don`t get their way. Responsible adults identify and accept their contributions to, roles in difficult or troubling circumstances and tehn… DO something to improve it. Sheesh.

  35. 38
    Debbie N

    I am so sick of teacher bashers. Thank God they have a union b/c at the hands of you and your ilk, they’d be getting up at 4 in the morning to light the fire in the stove to heat the classroom.

  36. 39
    S Penn

    It’s not just Waynesboro. Martinsville is in the same boat. I completely agree that teachers need to be paid much better salary; however, I can remember 30 years ago being in elementary school and 90% of all the teachers I encountered complained about their salaries being too low for what they are required to accomplish . I say that to say that the low, unfair wages cannot possibly be a secret to anyone pursuing a teaching career. All the other points in the resignation are very close to home and dear to my heart. Especially the SOL part. I am the parent of two students who have frequently got perfect scores On SOLs and I still feel that is the SOLs have taken over the schools for the worst. There is reduced focus on learning; the focus is on looking good. The school system is in a sad sad position and the apathetic attitude of some parents and community members is detrimental to the school system. I think we sometimes forget that the students are going to be working for us soon and will not be prepared. The solution: find Scott Kizner or more who think and work like him. We had him in Martinsville before and he asked and answered the questions in this letter. He was a solution problem-solving wiz. Some people were not happy, naturally, but the school system was in great shape. Students were cared about it students were learning. He did not care about race or economic background as long as the child was learning to the highest of their capabilities and their home life was taken into consideration. He even started home visits which were intended to visit the students who had great parents that you could not reach or get involved. Of course you always have a few people who want to get around this and they would go visit the easy families but that’s a separate issue. He had every elementary school child tested to see if they could be identified as gifted and talented or beyond their grade level. Not just the chosen few. He was a champion of the downtrodden and he pulled them up to a higher level of learning. I want that for every student. He demanded and fall for pay increases for the teachers. He really push the idea that we could not attract nor retain highly qualified teachers on these low salaries.

  37. 42

    Moving article! You cite many reasons the Montessori methodology attracts traditional teachers. There are other avenues via which you can find joy and satisfaction in educating children… and perhaps Montessori would appeal to you?

    Please take a look at our school. We strive to not only educate and guide the child, but also provide the person life skills. We aim for our entire school, including staff, to enjoy the process of learning, not only from the materials, but also from life and from each other.

  38. 43

    I’m very impressed by your ability to put it all out there! I retired early for many of the same reasons. I was a special education teacher for over 30 years. I loved my students but I could no longer handle the stress of the job. As you said, more and more was getting dumped on me every year…I worked harder in my last few years of teaching than I did years before. It was no longer about the students. I could no longer say my students were getting what they needed to succeed after leaving my class. I used to be able to say that ALL my students had everything they needed to succeed when leaving my class and entering the real world as an adult. I’m so thankful that you actually put into words and published my thoughts!! Thank you for speaking up and being a spokes person for the many of us that either didn’t have it in us to speak up or didn’t know how to express what we felt.

  39. 44
    Cher Wilson

    Thank you for sharing, but more, thank you for fighting the good fight now.
    I just resigned from teaching after 15 years, in public school in central Louisiana, for your EXACT reasons.
    My early years were beautiful, but now the system is degraded, and shameful, and has grown increasingly so in the last several years. I applied to be a janitor or a para, but the board would not hire me, once I threatened leaving the classroom. I even sold my home and cut my house payment in half, to afford to finish my years until retirement in a support position.
    Thank you -your ideas for a teacher survey, and ridding classes of long lecture are a brilliant pathway to beginning change!
    Best of luck in the fight!

  40. 45

    I may be a bit behind the curve as I see that you wrote this letter this past summer of 2014; truth is that as I read your piece I had to shake my head with how accurate you were on all levels. I am now in my 30th year of teaching at the high school level…guess I am a lifer? However, I have a son, just turned 24 and teaching special needs (like his dad) in Phoenix…and I worry for him. I worry for all young teachers. I worry for all teachers across the board. I am quite sure that the public doesn’t get it…doesn’t actually understand what it takes to teach in the current scheme of things. Your letter simply nailed it. It was both eloquent and accurate. I am at the end or last part of my teaching career and I’m just not sure what is going to happen as we move forward in education. I have always reminded people that it is easy to force more work, confusing work…upon people when you are miles from the “front line” of teaching. As you said…so many make the rules and then leave and never see how difficult it is to follow-through with mandates that simply don’t make sense. So…just wanted to email you and the many others out there also trying to do their best day by day…remember this; “All professions began with a teacher”! For most kids we are the link between them being successful or not. Thanks for your powerful letter….and having the guts to walk away from the profession you chose.

  41. 46
    Judy Salverson

    Josh, we need to get you some some Television shows that have the ability to get national attention to these issues. It is a nationwide epidemic. I am willing to get the ball rolling, or assist in the pushing of it in any way that I am able. I was a teachers assistant for years in the MadisonWI. area, saw it firsthand! J

  42. 47
    Kate star

    Sadly Josh, at my school, if someone were to speak out as eloquently as you have here, let’s say in a faculty meeting –the response would be “now josh, we know change is hard…..” then you would be put on a pip. Other teachers in the room would, like mindless, demeaned bobbleheads , nod blankly in unison..

  43. 48

    Well! I am an elementary school teacher from Canada on a sick leave after 10 years in the profession for the same reasons identified in your article and in many respond posts. The administrative demands, big classeroms, diversified teaching, disciplinary and behavior issues, fewer services and support, over testing and data collecting an overloaded curriculum has had its way with me. Behing a very committed teacher to my students and a creative learning approach advocate, I have had to struggle with the lack of real teaching and learning hours in the classeroom with my students because of so many different social, cultural, sport activities within a regular 8:30 to 3:30 day but mostly because of having to manage a diversified method of teaching and evaluating to reach a very wide spectrum of special need students in our now regular” 2 level” classroms. It goes to say that the extra 4 , 5 hours of prep and evalution work before and after class hours and on week.- end makes it difficult for use to be a “there” parent or spouse. It is a fact that the best teacher trying to jump all these loops to really commit to ALL it’ s student and to it’s superiors become eshaustef. We also have extra classroom duties to help the entire school’ s education system and vision. Like managers or office team workers, we have various internal and external meetings on top of parents meetings, school concerts and carnival planing. My summers have never been a 2 months vacation and more and more I see myself spending my Chrismas and spring break in bef, exhausted. Of course many other public jobs are demending but how many continues beyond the job hours? How many drains you mentally as much as physically. We teachers DO wear many hats every day. It seems that more and more the expectations from school administrators ( boards),our communities and our parents grows heavier each year. However respect, recognition, support and most of all, trust in our professonal capacity and judgment deminish. After only 10 years I am at the crossroad, deciding to continue in this ounce loved profession, make changes in my commitments to the system, to my values or change carreir….

  44. 49

    I have just re-read my post and found many mistakes for which You ipologize. I will have to blame the french in me!

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