We see the letters posted on the Internet from educators who are disgruntled or dissatisfied with their positions as teachers within our current education system (for example this letter from Huff Post Education). However, I do wonder about the stories not being told about educators who make a difference every day and choose to continue in the profession. The message I see, time and again in the media, from educators is that they are dissatisfied with the way education works, the system is broken, they don’t like the policies so their answer is to resign. That’s a great lesson for our students<insert sarcasm here>… when things don’t work the way you want… just quit. The more difficult challenge of working with the system and systemically striving for positive change is an act that almost never makes the papers. For that reason, I’d like to share why I am in education and why I will continue to be in education without an incendiary resignation letter.
This is my open response, as an educator, to the above-mentioned letter:
Dear Administrators, Superintendents, Teachers, et al., This is my official letter declaring my dedication to the students and children that we serve every day in our classrooms and schools. I am exceedingly happy to have the privilege to serve children who are just beginning to understand the very complex world in which we live. There is nothing more rewarding than sharing a learning experience with a student and building a relationship of trust in which both the student and the teacher form new knowledge together. We believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children and as such we form a partnership that always strives to provide children with the resources and learning experiences they need in life. We are an extension of the home family unit and that is a sacred honor that I hold close to my heart. You see… there are very few professions as noble as that of educator. We are tasked with helping a child grow their knowledge and mind so that they can be successful and happy in their adult lives while providing for the betterment of society. Why wouldn’t someone want to be involved in a profession such as this? I did not enter the field of education with grand notions that I would make a six-figure salary, be understood by parents who do not yet recognize the professional degrees and credentials I hold, face the reality that teachers tend to be looked down upon as failing by our society, or that I would have to face policies and practices that were designed for a factory-era society rather than one that should be looking to the 22nd century. You may call me crazy… but those are among the chief reasons I entered this profession. So that I may change them. So many teachers become disillusioned with the education system and I have to ask “why?” Did they enter this profession blindly? Did they (sorry for the pun) not do their homework and learn all they could about teaching and what it entailed in our society? I have to wonder when I read resignation letters that complain about low wages, following policies they might not agree with, etc. If someone is out there speaking untruths to our pre-service teachers, please let me know so that we can stop them. I’m going to break this down to the lowest common denominator: Teaching is hard; it will be an uphill battle; you will not be paid what you are worth; people will judge you based on tests you do not take; it is not fair. This is the state of most school systems within the United States. Enter the profession knowing that the above statements are true and that this is the reality in a large portion of the schools that exist today.
Are you ready for the challenge?
Enter this profession, knowing what you know and fight for change. If you quit the profession knowing all of the above from the beginning, you only have yourself to blame. Do not blame the administrators, parents, colleagues, policies, practices, etc. Only you have the power to enter a system that is struggling and to make it better. Our society is so set on instant gratification that we believe if we haven’t brought about immediate change, then we are failing. Take a deep breath for this one: Failure is okay. We learn from it and we rework our strategies. Quitting, for the true educator, is never an option. So many educators complain about policies that make them uncomfortable. The standards movement had its detractors, NCLB had its critics, Race to the Top has been torn apart, Common Core State Standards have been openly attacked… some people will never be happy with change and that is okay. But realize that our profession is built upon change.
The very nature of education should be change.
We are not supposed to teach children the same way we have been teaching for the last 100 years. Technology, society, and the world move ahead with or without us. I’m sorry to break the news to you but that worksheet or standard that you really love may have to disappear. A worksheet and a standard do not make you a good educator. What makes you a good educator is the ability to take a learning goal, objective, standard, etc. and to make that come alive for your students. Don’t like the new standards? Well, get involved in the politics of creating those standards. Don’t like the new policy, work to change it. Can you change everything or affect everything? No. But demonstrate to the world that we can fight for it. Quitting only demonstrates that the issue really wasn’t that important to you in the first place. Let’s be honest, the message quitting sends isn’t that the system is broken. The message it sends is that you are not happy about the condition of education and you do not value students enough to continue to fight for them. I understand the fatigue of the fight; I’m in it myself. So quit if you must, but don’t bash the administrators, colleagues, or policies because you couldn’t continue the fight. All that serves to do is lower the morale of those of us in the trenches and discourage those who are considering taking up arms to make this a better world for our students. The following statement was made: “We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.” I have a couple of problems with this. If you speak out you may be reprimanded, but perhaps it has to do with the way you are speaking out. Is it constructive or is it complaining? If you do as you are told you are not necessarily supporting a broken system. You have to have a system to work with in order to make changes in the first place. Is it the best system? No. But to say you won’t do what you are contracted and have agreed to do when you accepted the position only highlights that you truly did not know what you were getting into. Instead, work with the system, and use the procedures and policies put in place to make positive changes. And be prepared, people will criticize you for this. Any change is met with resistance. Some ask and argue, “Can I stand by and watch this [failed education] happen to our precious children?” and the response is to quit and fight from outside the system. I’m sorry, you did something worse than stand by and watch, you left the field of battle. Your colleagues are still there attempting to make things better and you abandoned us. You abandoned your students. You didn’t stand by… you sat down.
In her resignation letter Mrs. Hawkins asks: “Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers? With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love.”
A follower quits following. A leader guides his or her ship through turbulent waters and fights to make the voyage to the desired destination.
I profess that we have leaders and that they are fighting every day to make a difference in the educational landscape. Leaders like @sjsbates, @theweirdteacher, @tritonkory, @btcostello05, among many others. We fight to bring about change and find the value in the current changes that are taking place. Are the changes enough? No. But we all have to start somewhere. I do not know how the resignation of an individual is supposed to inspire change. Perhaps the resignation is a good thing, because we’ve lost someone who has given up the ghost in the battle for education reform.
I say to you teachers, educators, colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms… do not give up the fight. Become a leader. Chart these tumultuous waters, brave the maelstrom of doubt and dissent, and stand with us as we make this a better world for our students. You are the good news in education and you are the stories that should be told to the world. Let’s stop perpetuating incendiary resignation letters from teachers and, instead, support the great work educators perform every day to make a difference in the lives of their students and for the betterment of the education community in our great United States of America. The best way to teach students that they matter and can make a difference is to show them that we matter and that we can make a difference. That is hard to do if we simply quit and hope that it will somehow inspire change.
We are in this together. Do not let the fatigue get to you. Lean on each other. Remember this great quote from Firefly:
“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that- you find someone to carry you.”
Let’s carry each other and make this a better world for every child out there.
I invite your comments and I ask that you consider writing your own letter to continue our fight. Let’s stop quitting and let’s start making a difference.
This is Captain Wick… ending transmission and awaiting your reply.