Recently, an informal teacher I respect reflected on her reasons for leaving formal education. Any of us who have stayed abreast of education issues realize that attrition can happen for a number of reasons. This social media declaration, though, caused me to think how attritution could be addressed through Deeper Learning shifts.
Dear Principal (of my first and last teaching job),
I never had dreams of becoming a teacher, but when I realized I had a gift for making students find the best in themselves and that I could inspire a confidence in youth who had talent or dreams in the arts I knew I was a good fit for the job. Unfortunately, I only lasted two years in the public schools. It wasn’t the rowdy kids, it wasn’t the thankless hours writing lesson plans, behavior reports and grading papers, and it wasn’t even the lousy pay, I quit because of you.
Because you hired me for a 7/8 position yet scolded me for leaving during the hour I wasn’t hired for.
Because you told me the school had a zero tolerance policy and the first kid I sent down to your office you brought back and in front of all my other students said “this child says he hasn’t done what you said.”
Because you told me the art department had no budget for supplies and then called me into your office when you received a call from parents complaining I was asking them to buy their own supplies.
Because I taught an “extra curricular” course in which the students received educational credit but I received the $700 yearly stipend for “coaching.”
Shift 1: Accountability in 21st century schools is no longer just one person’s job, and that’s good, because kings and queens quickly lose the veneer of perfection. Although this letter addresses the Principal by name, multiple stakeholders are needed to build effective schools systems, and are missing in this case.
Great schools include principals and district leaders that create conditions that lead to success and fund curriculum and educational materials. Additionally, legislators and a public that respect teachers and supports their contributions matters in both funding and emotional respect. Such an atmosphere allows us to look for equitable ways to assess education, and to value the contributions of all curricular areas, not just those traditionally affected by standardized tests.
Because you embarrassed me to the point of tears when you interrupted a parent meeting to furiously blame me for losing something you later found in your possession. And I only learned this information second hand, there was no apology.
Because you shamed me for a dress I wore that covered everything because you thought it was too sexy, but allowed a smaller breasted, skinnier teacher to run the halls in tiny shorts and a sports bra nearly every day.
Shift 2: Distributed, skills-based leadership is a key to the future. No one leader in a school is always right, or always charitable or always even kind. We make mistakes (sometimes due to our own biases) as leaders, but those are more likely to be addressed as effective teams than by one person taking on the ‘top leader.’ By shifting to teams that make decisions and share governance and accountability, schools can grow as systems that are more just and collaborative.
Because you informed me when a child got kicked out of another class you put them in mine. And while I understand the thinking that sometimes all these students needed was some experiential learning or my more calm teaching style, I still didn’t appreciate being the dumping ground and I didn’t appreciate it when you called me rude for calling it so.
Because when I asked you what you were going to do when a student I assigned detention to didn’t serve, you took out handfuls of detention slips and told me they were all unserved, and I knew then you cared more about being a student’s buddy than a teachers support system.
Shift 3: No administrator, board member, or teacher leader has all the skills needed to constantly adapt to the changing conditions of the educational world. Enter the expanding potential of teacher networks that allow us to ask tough questions about personalizing education, multiple learning needs, or oppositional learning situations. By offering non-critical feedback, learning menus of just-in-time solutions that are connected to research, new possibilities for solutions-based approaches can be developed. For young administrators, teachers and their mentors, micro-credentials that develop or document pedagogical skills, including restorative justice conversations and alternatives to strict behaviorism.
Because I needed to find confidence in myself again and I did. I know I was and am a great teacher and I know I have students who are glad they had me, but just as I once taught students you can do so much more with art than just being a teacher, I now also know there are hundreds of other ways to be a teacher.
The reflection of this teacher tells me that we are all lifelong learners. Instead of public education, those gifts are now being utilized in extended and social learning situations. While I’m grateful for a win-neutral situation that allows this teacher to still use her gifts, I still think it’s a shame. It would be great if what we see in hindsight might be prevented through careful planning and foresight. Deeper learning, then, is a systems planning tool as well as an observational framework.