Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 05 2011

Don’t Quit

While we’re on the subject of classes that tortured me and decided their Big Goal could be running me out after they got another teacher to quit, let me say something to all the incoming corps members reading these blogs: Don’t quit. Don’t do it. No matter what happens, no matter how much you hate life, no matter how badly you suck at your job. Maybe, maybe, maybe, a severe personal or family illness where time is critical could be a reason to quit, but even then you’d really have to think about it, talk to your school and talk to your kids. Otherwise, make it through the year. I couldn’t care less if you quit over the summer, because that’s just your business with TFA. But quitting during the school year has far-reaching impacts that go way beyond how terrible your class might be on a day-to-day basis, and it’s hard to justify leaving if you know everything that happens next.

Our 7th and 8th grade building had three (out of 15, also known as one-fifth or 20%) of our teachers leave in the middle of this school year. They left for various reasons and were replaced by various levels of consistent substitutes, none of which mattered much in the grand scheme of things. Classroom management at my school is difficult for teachers, so forget about it when they have substitutes. Kids get an entire period to go absolutely crazy, which on a good day means not working and talking back. On a bad day it means covering desks in graffiti, throwing footballs across the classroom, climbing on the teacher desk and going through drawers, shrieking, having wildly inappropriate conversations at full volume, and running away to wander campus without consequences. (And those are just the things I’ve personally witnessed.)

Not only does that mean that zero learning happens, but it also impedes learning in other classrooms. It’s hard to teach next door to a zoo, and it’s also incredibly difficult for kids to snap back to quiet obedience after they’ve spent 80 minutes swinging from the ceiling. The teacher next door to me left midyear, and I had to move my kids to an empty classroom to give them tests. The one time I had to watch a classroom of kids after his class, I literally led them in breathing exercises to calm them down before we could get anything done. Now just imagine how much crazier they get in the hallways, at recess, and after school.

I won’t even get started on all the slack that other teachers inevitably have to pick up when the original teacher is no longer in the classroom. Who does your paperwork? Who orders your kids’ field day t-shirts? Who disciplines the worst of them? Who writes lesson plans for your substitute? And this is me not even getting started.

By the end of the year, it was remarkable how different the students were depending on which ones had teachers leave them. All my craziest stories from this year, including the kid who swung at my assistant principal, the kids who jumped a girl and her mother after school, and the kids acting like looters after a natural disaster, all came from classrooms where the teachers had quit. The class that had two teachers quit was by far the worst class by the end of the year. The classes who had no teachers leave them didn’t get far past typical middle school antics.

Sure, some of that is probably that the worst-behaved classes cause teachers to quit, but the quitting still allows them to get worse than they ever would have been otherwise. There was one class full of smart students, which started the year with a reputation for being a fun, hardworking, great group of kids. They had two teachers quit and were awful by the end of the year. Most of the kids not allowed to walk at promotion came from there. Another group, stacked with all the special education students, many of last year’s infamous behavior problems, and six more kids than the grade class-size average, had no teachers leave and was acting like puppies by the end of the year. Coincidence? I think not.

4 Responses

  1. Wess

    Wholeheartedly, deeply, earnestly, genuinely seconded.

  2. I’m sitting alone in the hotel room in Phoenix, just having said goodbye to my mom and getting ready to head to an interview today and induction tomorrow…. and right now all I wanna do is go home. Chase after the taxi my mom took to the airport and tell her to take me with her. I know I want to do this, and that I’m here for the right reasons, but I’m sure I’m going to need to be reminded a lot more over the next 2 years. I know I haven’t started teaching yet, but thank you for this. I read this at the perfect time.

  3. Well said.

  4. Ms. H

    I, too, lived through this and could not agree more. Even when they found a suitable replacement for one of the teachers, too much time had passed and the students were sure they could run her out. When that didn’t happen, they just got mad that they were being asked to do something more than just hang out all class period.

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