Erin O’Connor of Critical Mass is leaving Penn to teach English to high school students at a boarding school.
I’ve been teaching college since 1991. Along the line, I’ve stopped feeling that I can do the sort of teaching I want to do in a university setting. Too many people arrive at college — even a place like Penn — without solid reading and writing skills. And once they are there, it’s almost guaranteed that they won’t acquire them. Their educations are too unstructured, there is too little continuity with individual professors and too little coordination among professors, there are too few professors who will take the time to work closely with students to help them develop and improve their skills. I noticed that the best students were ones who brought their skills with them to college, while the weaker ones were those who had been done a disservice in K-12. I noticed, too, that most people turned a blind eye on this realization, and taught their classes as if their students were far more prepared than they were. I noticed that they inflated grades to cover this up, and that they groused among one another — utterly unselfconscious about the fact that as teachers they have a responsibility to, you know, teach — about how students these days just aren’t very smart. I realized that there was not much I could do in such a setting to change things, and that if I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives, I needed to encounter them when they were younger. My leaving academe is certainly in part a gesture of disgust at the corruption I’ve documented endlessly on Critical Mass. But, far more elementally, it is an attempt to put myself in an educational setting where I can actually do some solid, lasting good.
O’Connor has quite a bit more on secondary vs. college teaching, plus links to comments by other academics.