Sarah Fine explains why she quit teaching after four years at a Washington, D.C. charter school. It starts with burnout.
I describe what it was like to teach students such as Shawna, a 10th-grader who could barely read and had resolved that the best way to deal with me was to curse me out under her breath. I describe spending weeks revising a curriculum proposal with my fellow teachers, only to find out that the administration had made a unilateral decision without looking at it. I describe how it became impossible to imagine keeping it up and still having energy for, say, a family.
The workload and workday got longer, while “more and more major decisions were made behind closed doors, and more and more teachers felt micromanaged rather than supported.”
The teaching itself was exhilarating but disheartening. There were triumphs: energetic seminar discussions, cross-class projects, a student-led poetry slam. This past year, my 10th-graders even knocked the DC-CAS reading test out of the water. Even so, I felt like a failure. Too many of my students showed only occasional signs of intellectual curiosity, despite my best efforts to engage them. Too many of them still would not or could not read. And far too many of them fell through the cracks. Of the 130 freshmen who entered the school in 2005, about 50 graduated this spring.
Furthermore, teachers get little respect, Fine writes. Teaching is seen as a nice profession for people without ambition.
She plans to travel, write and relax. I wonder what she’ll end up doing as her next career.
On Eduwonk, Maria Fenwick, also with four years’ experience, explains why she’s voting with her feet, leaving a troubled inner-city school.
The best way I can describe what happened over the course of four years is a gradual wearing down of my spirit. . . . I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. Any. More. It was not a question of effort. It was certainly not a question of efficacy. It was, however, a perfect storm: change-resistant colleagues, a principal unable or unwilling to motivate and lead them.
. . . The most shocking thing to admit – even to myself- was that my own intrinsic motivation was not enough. I did not have the energy, the passion, or the self-discipline to truly carry out the work of an excellent teacher each and every day.
Fenwick is not leaving teaching. She’s switching to a city school where she hopes to find supportive colleagues and a principal who knows how to lead.