Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why we quit (updated)

The Washington Post published a letter from a teacher who has quit her job after four years citing burn-out. Sarah Fine teaches in Washington D.C. and her story is the perfect look into the daily feelings of a teacher struggling to fine a reason for the madness.

I would really point to the "social recognition" part of the job as a serious downer when it comes to managing ones personal sanity. Gotta love a society that expects you to raise their kids while telling you that you are lazy, overpaid, and lucky to be doing such an "easy task". Want insight into the hypocrisy of America? Read the comments. People tear into Sarah for being selfish and telling her to "suck it up", "welcome to the real world", and one teacher said that she was thankful that Fine was not coming back to the profession because it shouldn't be about personal emotional gratification.

Jesus, as if it's a problem to wish that society saw student success as "emotionally gratifying".

I think Sarah was tired of being society's scapegoat in dealing with problems around raising young men and women. I don't think Sarah is spoiled or egotistical, I think Sarah is sick of being bludgeoned over the head for doing one of the most important jobs without the right tools, the right environment, and the right support. About the only mistake she might make is that she thinks Ivy League schools somehow prepare you for the classroom. Here's a tip, and Teach For America might want to note this, good mentor teachers help prepare for a classroom. Passion for kids help prepare for a classroom. Organization helps prepare for a classroom. Supportive administrators help prepare for a classroom. If I'm hiring a teacher for a position, that diploma from Harvard means very little to me compared to a diploma from Southern Oregon State. The question is about teaching, not sitting through a lecture by Henry Gates on how to pop a lock on a screen door.

People would do well to listen to Sarah Fine very carefully. She had the heart and the passion, but you can only take so much before you think that the benefit outweighs the monumental cost. I lucked out. The social aspect really, REALLY bothers me. But I've had a group of excellent administrators that not only supported me, but were critical when they had to be as well. They treated me like a professional and a part of machine that's running the educational process in Ukiah. They helped make me a better teacher. Sarah didn't have that support and I'm sorry we lost her.

Updated 8/16

The co-principal from Sarah's old high school wrote a response in the Washington Post, and I think it's the perfect example of a cop-out.

"An important lesson that we will teach our students is that the best service is done without regard to reward or remuneration, perquisites that have historically accompanied careers in medicine, law and business. Indeed, at this moment in our history, it seems appropriate to note that reforming our dysfunctional public education, health care, and financial sectors will probably be accomplished by citizens more interested in serving others than in garnering praise for themselves."
What a bunch of horse shit. I think that it was made clear by Sarah Fine that she was willing to give herself up to teaching, but was not getting the support or tools necessary to get the job done correctly. It is also interesting that things like merit pay and teacher accountability seem to be all the rage in an era where the teacher should be so selfless. Part of the problem with our "dysfunctional public education" is that it has become the social norm to teacher bash. It's not like Sarah was expecting society to kiss her ass, she was expecting administrative support and simple respect. If we are doing such an important job, why not acknowledge it? That's not begging for praise, that's a sign of a healthy society. It's one of the reasons why South Korea, Japan, and Finland do better with test scores.

This kind of response infuriates me. Most teachers are not looking to be adorned, we're looking for help in getting kids educated. This co-principal is not helping at all.

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