Why I quit teaching

Teaching ate me alive, writes Peter Hirzel, an architect turned math teacher, on Salon. After 10 years teaching in Los Angeles, he quit.

It wasn’t one single incident that made me quit teaching in a public middle school. It was the steady, moldy accumulation of dehumanizing, lifeless, squalid misadventures of which I was a part.

One day, he said something — he’s not sure what — to upset “Carlos.” The next day, Carlos’ father and several uncles came to school with baseball bats looking for his classroom.

My friend the Dean of Students had diplomatically suggested (they) . . . accompany him to his office, where the matter could be discussed at leisure. My friend the Dean assured me that the bats were for dramatic effect only; that they did not intend to use them and that they only wanted to put the whammy on my head in a metaphorical sense.

“Mission accomplished,” I said. But you can’t suspend a kid just because his dad and an assortment of uncles threaten to metaphorically beat you to death with baseball bats. So the next day, there was Carlos, in class. No notebook, no pencil, no homework, no nothin’. Just a metaphorical baseball bat poised over my head. And the distinct sense that I had to mind my p’s and q’s with Carlos because the folks at home cared about him, after their fashion.

He couldn’t take it any more.

Hirzel started teaching to “make a difference,” he writes. “I thought I could save humanity from its ignorance, cupidity and deceit one youngster at a time.” His failure is his own fault . . . But the administrators didn’t help.

First, there are far too many of them. Far, far too many. A lot too many. A toiletful too many. Put ‘em out to pasture. Paying for early retirement has got to be cheaper than paying for their mistakes. As they say about the government in general: If you hate the problem, wait ’til you see our solution!

Second, they are all, in my experience, more or less the same interchangeable, vaporous nonentity. Drifting through the halls with a walkie-talkie, unburdened by care or shame, hurrying off to some monumentally inconsequential three-hour off-site meeting, with nothing but a pot of coffee and two brain cells between them, where a plan will be hatched with no purpose, no effect and no follow-through. Leadership begins at the top — simple as that. Schools drift in the fog as a direct result of the log-rolling incompetence of our erstwhile captains and their first mates.

He hates politicians too. And the LA Times.

Via This Week in Education.


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