‘I don’t want to be a teacher any more’

In her 35th year in the classroom, an Oregon elementary teacher discovers to her surprise: I Don’t Want to be a Teacher Any More.

Starting in the ’90s, class sizes began growing. Teachers were given janitorial and clerical duties to perform, such as cleaning their own classrooms.

Worried about test scores, her district required all teachers to use the same instructional materials.

At the same time, class sizes and special needs were growing. The behavior classroom was closed and its students were mainstreamed into the regular classroom. I tried to become an expert on dealing with anger issues. I tried to learn how to help fifth graders with severe disabilities, limited mobility, and cognitive levels of very young children, all in my regular classroom now filled with 30-35 students.

One day, she realize she’d had enough.

Maybe it was the severely autistic boy who showed up at my door the first day with no notice, but I don’t really think so.  Maybe it was the rigid schedule the principal passed out for everybody to be doing the same subject at the same time of day, or the new basal reader we have to use that we aren’t allowed to call a basal reader. Maybe it’s the look in my student’s eyes when we’re reading the newly required dry textbook when I’m used to wild and crazy discussions about amazing novels.

Her school missed AYP because two few English Language Developing students passed reading.

I thought of the little boy I had with an IQ of 87 who could barely read.  I thought of the little girl in a wheelchair who’d had 23 operations on tumors on her body in her 11 years, and the girl who moved from Mexico straight into my class and learned to speak English before my eyes, but couldn’t pass the state test.

Last year, she was offered $20,000 to retire, but turned it down. At 55, she wasn’t ready to quit working. This year . . .

Ricochet, who teaches high school, is fed up too.

About Joanne


  1. Wow. I went and read the whole piece and the comments. I don’t doubt the problems she and other teachers face. I feel sorry for teachers in today’s educational environment with so many forces tugging and pulling them in a million directions.

    Many of those who commented blamed all the problems on neo-con, teacher-hating, theocratic-slavering-idiotic-union-bashing, faux-listening, right-wing repugs. The truth is the left has been in control of education for a long time. Maybe, just maybe, they might have something to do with the state of education today. Easier to blame those one hates anyway.

  2. I know so many retired teachers who felt the exact same way about NCLB-inspired test mania, state standards, and heavy-handed administrators dictating a “if it’s Tuesday on the 21st week of the school year, you *WILL* be teaching lesson X” approach. And with all the talk of national standards, it’s only going to get worse I fear.

    We allow doctors to use their professional judgment in treating their patients- why are we so reluctant to grant the same flexibility to teachers?

  3. I’m in higher ed, and I’ve seen a fair amount of “administrative creep” (we’re asked to do extra stuff, some of which the admins used to do). There’s also pressure to increase class sizes, to “do more with less,” to do added things like volunteer work (and then write a report for the university on it, so they can get “credit” for, I guess, claiming x% of their faculty are involved…), taking more and more surveys that probably won’t lead to any kind of real improvement…

    While I UNDERSTAND the need to sometimes take on more duties in a time of shrinking budgets, there’s a point where some of the stuff we are being asked to do detracts from our time in the classroom. And detracts from morale.

    I admit to having had a few days lately where I’ve gone home and said, “I don’t know if I want to teach any more.” I love teaching and love working with students, but a lot of the other, extraneous stuff can be kind of deadening.

  4. Belinda Gomez says:

    So, if non-English speakers were put in English immersion, autistic kids in special ed, would she still be complaining? Dull textbooks aren’t going to kill a good teacher.

  5. CW; Doctors are being pushed away from using their professional judgment by increased government regulations and reimbursement policies. This process has been accelerating for years and Obamacare will put in into fast forward. Bureaucrats who are not practicing physicians, let alone in a particular specialty, and have not seen the patient are increasingly interfering with treatment options. I know several people who respond very well to long-term maintenance on an old, dirt-cheap drug designed for that use but every time it is renewed, the doctor has to jump through several paperwork and phone hoops with government (Medicare) bureaucrats because the drug is not on the current formulary. It isn’t on the formulary because the bureaucrats aren’t experienced enough in the specialty to be aware of it, since it is so old. Doctors are increasingly being pushed out of private practice, which now is pretty well restricted to surgeons and some other specialists, so they are increasingly pressured by their employers as well as the government.

  6. Yet another reason for school choice – choice for teachers, too.

  7. Stacy in NJ says:

    I wonder why she wouldn’t get a job at a private school where it’s unlikely she would have the same issues with special needs and ELS kids. If her delight is teaching, why not go on teaching in a better environment. Oh, wait, because she wouldn’t be paid as much, receive overly generous benefits, and have tenure. So is it about the joy of teaching or is it about the money?

  8. Stacy in NJ, show some mercy. The woman’s been teaching for 35 years. Maybe she’s not “just” moving to a better teaching environment because she’s tired. Starting over after 35 years can be asking a lot.

  9. Really Stacy?
    Just WOW.

  10. Hmm, well I haven’t been at it as long, but I can share some of her frustrations. Only, I don’t say to myself, “I don’t want to be a teacher anymore.” Can’t imagine getting to that point. But I *can* imagine saying, I don’t want to be a public school teacher anymore. Why? Because so much “junk” gets in the way of helping students learn, delivering effective instruction, getting meaningful results. Everything from dopey “politically correct” initiatives that everyone must jump to implement, “full inclusion” which has students who are way out of their ZPD floundering despite one’s best efforts, unvalidated and ineffective curricular materials required to be used, incredible amounts of make-work administrivia that has nothing whatever to do with student outcomes, “professional development” delivered by people who should go back to middle school themselves, punitive measures applied to anyone who uses effective strategies that buck the current fads, required assessments that are time-consuming and lack both validity and reliability……..

    The siren song of the private sector gets louder every year. However, I know the students I enjoy teaching the most will not be there, so I will hang in and see if there’s a change for the better. When the day comes that I can’t use *any* of my skills to promote student achievement, I’m outta here. I do have other options so I’m not at the frustration point yet. I can choose to stay or go and so far I’ve still got my hat in the ring.

    Choice would be good, but there is little demand for more of it in my district. I’d like to see a rigorous, academically-focused elementary for low-SES kids aimed at boosting their achievement. We have middle and secondary programs like that, but it is usually too late by then. We need to get language skills, reading, writing, mathematics and foundation science and study skills in place much earlier.

    Instead of money and time-wasting “teacher performance pay” districts should look at increasing options for autonomy and freedom from interference in delivering the program for teachers who show they can get results. Make the incentive something that will actually promote and reward teacher excellence.

  11. Performance pay would never have kept me in teaching. What would have done that was some backbone in the district leadership and administration. Full inclusion for every kid with an IEP is a terrible idea. It benefits a few of them, but far from all.

  12. Stacy in NJ: regarding private schools… I’m also in NJ. I put a year in a catholic school while waiting for my certification to go through – I moved from NY to NJ, and NJ made me to take the exams again and wait for almost a year for the paperwork. I worked for 30K a year, no benefits, no pension, 5 different subjects, 2 clubs, tutoring after school, and a committee…..I was ready to give up there completely. The students were also no different than in public school in NY where I worked previously. The same behavior problems… I called parents, I have sent students to the principal (there was no one else to send them to), and they were sent right back to me… In addition, there was no curriculum for the subjects I taught… I had to reinvent the wheel 5 times for each subject. I brought in boxes of my materials, I was buying stuff for the labs.. So, of course, as soon as I got my paperwork, I’ve got a job at a public HS. But also it cleared all doubts for me as had an idea of sending my son to a private school… No reason: teacher turnover is extremely high, no curriculum, everybody “dances” as they see fit… I will still have to teach him after school the way I do now.

  13. Stacy in NJ says:

    Exo, Sorry to hear about your negative experience in a Catholic school in NJ. I wonder why they test so much better than the public schools if the circumstances are so difficult for teachers.

  14. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mark, Yes, You’re probably right that a bit of mercy is in order. My mother-in-law taught first grade for 35 years in Long Island New York. She started her career at a Catholic school in Queens. I’ve heard many a horror tale. I sympathize greatly with the deteriorating social climate within some of our schools, and I do see teachers being asked to do the impossible with two arms tied behind their back. Only, their union is the single largest impediment preventing the changes needed to our system here in Jersey. So, on the one hand, I’d like to see good teachers freed up to do what they do best without all the BS, but I also partly blame them for their unwillingness to make the painful steps of letting go of a broken system (that make them a protected class).

    We have charters doing amazing thing for disadvantaged kids here and teachers in those schools earn less than their poorly performing public school neighbors.

  15. The reason why Catholic schools appear to score higher are self-selection effects… when score differentials are corrected for these self-selection effects, the differences mostly disappear:

    That said, these are just averages… individual schools can exceed these averages, even after correcting for self-selection effects.

  16. FuzzyRider says:

    35 years…wow. I burnt out in 17.

    The private sector is great…. come to the light…

  17. I am not sure that the union… I see it more like the DOE not being able to put things together… First, in September, they say Biology EOC counts for graduation, without any system in place regarding what to do with those who fail… Now, they say it doesn’t count. Will they say it counts again in May, one week before the test? My union makes sure that my administration is not asking for impossible things and proofreads its orders – like asking teachers to stand in hallways during the breaks and at the same time be responsible for whatever goes in the classrooms…

  18. Stacy in NJ says:

    Exo, the Jersey unions have systematically undermined all attempts at making vouchers or charters widely available. The kids who most benefit from school choice are those in the most disadvantaged areas. Our leafy green suburbs have been slow off the charter mark because they’re all relatively content with things as they are in their high performing schools. But kids in Camden, Newark, Jersey City, Tenton need those charters and vouchers. I’ll never forget the part Jersey teacher’s unions have played in preventing any escape from those horror-show schools.

    I understand the frustration about the EOC tests. My oldest son should be taking the Algebra I test this year, hopefully.

  19. Cardinal Fang says:

    But charters and voucher schools have not, by and large, made a difference. It would be great if charter schools and voucher schools turned out to be magic bullets against low-achieving students, but they’re not. Some are good, some are bad, but unfortunately many of the most successful ones rely on excellent fundraising and driven individual staffers. Neither of those models of success scale up.

  20. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Cardinal — The hit-and-miss nature of charters is sort of the point of having an open-market voucher system: you’re not going to find a magic silver bullet that covers every situation. You’re not going to find ONE solution that “scales up” to a national education system.

    So you let competition and market forces handle it.

    The point is NOT to magic up a utopian optimal solution. The point is to avoid the absolute worst-case scenario: parents get financially locked in to schools that absolutely suck and they have nowhere to go.

    No one gets forced to stay at a school they don’t want. That’s a huge improvement.

    And if someone does find something that “works”, that gets all the little kid-widgets to do their little kid-widget-best, then that person is going to get very rich very quickly. Until then… choice. That’s all that people need to feel like they at least got a fair shake.

  21. Cardinal Fang says:

    The point is, charters and vouchers haven’t delivered more hits than regular public schools. The magic of the market isn’t working in this case. Parents are already, in general, satisfied with their children’s schools. That is not the goal here– the goal is to make schools that educate students better.

    I’m not, particularly, opposed to charter schools. But they have been massively oversold by their proponents. If the teachers in New Jersey blocked charters, they shouldn’t have, but Stacy is writing as if they had been standing in the way of stupendous! amazing! progress. They haven’t, because charters and voucher schools don’t deliver stupendous! amazing! progress.

  22. Doctors are being pushed away from using their professional judgment by increased government regulations and reimbursement policies. This process has been accelerating for years and Obamacare will put in into fast forward.

    Momof4, the effects you’re talking about are almost entirely the result of private insurance companies’ policies. Government regulation has little to do with it. Your reflexive hatred of the government, however, is typical of the Galtian stupidity that keeps us in thrall to those insurance companies.

  23. Mike: Do you have physician friends in private practice and/or have you worked in a medical office? I have many of the former and have done the latter. Medicare and Medicaid are the worst offenders and their reimbursement rates heavily influence those of private insurers.

    There is also the issue of their appropriate use of taxpayer money. Perhaps you are happy with the idea that Medicaid is paying for in vitro fertilization treatment for unemployed, never-married mothers of two who are receiving welfare and associated benefits, but many taxpayers are not happy with that scenario.

  24. Stacy in NJ says:

    Cardinal, Some charters have delivered wonderful results. I wouldn’t know the results of vouchers because we have yet to offer then to anyone in Jersey.

    Michael has it right. The point isn’t that ALL charters are the answer; some charters are the answer. They’ll succeed or fail based upon their own merit, unlike their public school counter parts who fail and then fail and then fail again. School choice offers competition which is the missing ingredient in the our soup of failure.

  25. Stacy in NJ says:

    Mike, I’m not addressing your actual argument just your tone, which is hateful. Throwing out personal attacks is not an effective means of discourse. Grow up.

  26. SuperSub says:

    I’d have to agree with momof4…my wife being a pharmacist and having multiple friends who are doctors, I hear about the evils of insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid all the time. They complain about Medicare and Medicaid much more than insurance companies… and even many of their complaints about private insurance are due to government regulations or influence on the market.

  27. Cardinal Fang says:

    But we’re not doing a good job of closing up bad charter schools. So we can’t assume that the bad charter schools will die and the good ones remain.

    It seems to me that closing bad schools is a worthwhile idea, but an idea orthogonal to whether we approve charter schools.

    I’ve already said I’m in favor of charter schools. Vouchers, on the other hand, are a recipe for having public schools full of expensive-to-educate leftover students, unless a voucher school is required to accept anyone with a voucher and charge the same tuition to all.

  28. CF…

    You said:
    “Vouchers, on the other hand, are a recipe for having public schools full of expensive-to-educate leftover students.”

    Exactly right, but that is a feature and not a bug to voucher proponents. What you have to understand is, ultimately, they don’t care about those students left behind, they only care about their own (a perfectly normal impulse to have, of course… one’s responsibility is to one’s own children first and foremost). Voucher proponents absolutely do NOT want private schools being forced to take all students with a voucher… why I feel that is short-sighted is that whether we like it or not, having a permanent uneducated underclass even more concentrated than now in urban public schools will create societal havoc down the line.

  29. Anyone who doesn’t want to teach has something wrong with them. You’re not going to put the kids first? Then society should put you LAST! Your lack of desire astounds me. And your fear of the government derides me. Ugh!

  30. Parents are already, in general, satisfied with their children’s schools.

    If that’s the case, then why does the one elementary charter school in our area get >100 applicants into the lottery for 34 first grade slots? Why do all the private schools also get many more applicants than there are places available? Why is homeschooling booming?

    I would say that there is a significant level of dissatisfaction with the schools, at least in my neck of the woods. Even the folks who have their kids in the traditional public schools often tell me they wish they could enroll them in private school or homeschool.

  31. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Cardinal Fang saith:

    But we’re not doing a good job of closing up bad charter schools.

    That’s a factual assertion that I’m not really prepared to go to war over — and it strikes me as something that’s probably true, anyway.

    But regardless of whether we do close bad charter schools, we should close bad charter schools. Charters can be revoked, after all.

  32. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Howabout if we reverted to local control, and pensioned off all the county, state and federal “experts”?

  33. Roger Sweeny says:

    Vouchers, on the other hand, are a recipe for having public schools full of expensive-to-educate leftover students…

    Some voucher plans pay more for harder-to-educate students. I see nothing wrong with schools specializing in hard to educate students and getting paid extra for it. Right now hard to educate students get thrown in with everyone else. They usually don’t get educated and screw it up for other students, too. Lose-lose.