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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why I quit teaching: Pay was OK, but not the loss of autonomy

Ben Stein quit teaching after 20 years as a teacher and coach in the West Des Moines school district, he writes on USA Today. He was making nearly $90,000, he writes. But he felt micromanaged, disrespected and overwhelmed with paperwork.

When he started in 2002, as an eighth-grade social studies teacher, he got little guidance on what or how to teach, Stein writes. Over the years, the school added administrators and “instructional coaches" to make sure all teachers were doing the same thing. He spent time filling out forms rather than working with students.

Eventually, he was required to use Standards-Referenced Grading, which included giving students 50 percent for doing anything or nothing. "I could assign work," he writes, "but students didn't have to do it."

Since more students didn't do the work, "more students failed assessments," he writes. Because "they had unlimited opportunities to pass, I was spending more time grading than teaching."

"Discipline was replaced with something called PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), which I adamantly opposed," Stein writes. "Teachers were required to fill quotas by giving students positive 'points' for doing what was expected of them: Walking down the hall appropriately, remaining seated at lunch, etc."

Consequences disappeared. Behaviors got worse.

A colleague once sent a student to the office as the student picked up a desk and threw it at another student while screaming obscenities. Within 10 minutes the student was returned to the class because it wasn’t appropriate to miss any “instruction time.” What message does that give to the other students in that class? And maybe more important, what does it say to a teacher?

"We can certainly pay teachers like the professionals they are, but until we start treating them like the professionals they are, the best and brightest will continue to leave," Stein concludes.

Seventy-nine percent of Missouri teachers sometimes or often think about leaving the profession, according to a survey by the state teachers' union. Stress and student behavior, both cited by 63 percent, are a bigger factor than low pay (59 percent).

How much would you need to be paid to tolerate obscenity-screaming desk throwers? More than schools could ever afford. Improving working conditions would keep more teachers on the job. I suspect more students would show up for class if they were confident the time would be spent learning rather than dodging missiles.

For April Fool's Day, Fordham ran a story about a school that eliminated detentions and suspensions by sending misbehaving students to the “Restorative Justice Room" or sending them home for a "mental health day." They are expected to do "restorative acts," such as writing a letter of apology. It's a parody, but . . . Why not?


Apr 05

Between union contracts and various flavors of activist lawyers and state/Federal level pols imposing social agendas unrelated to education (or worse, obstructing education), adminicrats who actually want to are severely limited in the degree to which they can treat teachers as individuals with unique qualities. Forcing grading that does not reward actually learning the ______ and rewards doing nothing ... "discipline" that won't even permit protecting teachers and students from dangerous individuals ... public schools and those private schools that do similarly have gone stupid and dangerous.


Apr 02

I think it should be added that the teacher to administrator ratio in most states is approaching 1:1. A study done several years ago in my state showed than in a 10 year period the number of students statewide grew 4%, while the number of teachers grew 14% and the number of administrators grew 33%. Increase the number of "managers" and it will increase the amount of management. That it has devolved to micromanagement should surprise no-one.

And the bigger question is: can we correlate the increase in administrators to improved student outcomes? So far I'm not seeing much evidence of that.

Apr 03
Replying to

It's almost an inverse correlation.

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