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TMAO of Teaching in the 408 explains (sort of) why he's quitting. Sounds like, to carry out a metaphor he uses, he was consumed in the fires of his own dedication to his disadvantaged students—which apparently had him working 80-hour weeks. He puts it in typically poetic fashion:

I'm not happy unless I'm being the teacher I see in my head, but the process of finding that guy and living as him no longer makes me happy.

Commenting on TMOA's decision, Chris Lehamn, a Philadelphia high school principal, decries school systems' perpetuation of the notion that young teachers can and should take it on themselves to save the world:

Too often, the rhetoric of schools does delve into the heroic martyr teacher succeeding against all odds. That's not sustainable. That's not even useful.
We have to create school systems where teachers are valued, where we support young teachers, where we find ways to ensure that teachers at all levels of their career are given the opportunity to continue to grow and learn, and we have to find ways for teacher to reach the highest of expectations - their own expectations and others - in ways that allow them to work fewer than 70 hours a week.

This hits home with me because I learned through the years as a teacher that I couldn't do it all. Younger teachers sometimes criticized me when I backed away from taking on lead positions. I determined that I had to find a balance in my life. I loved my students, but I also had a family. It's impossible to do it all.

I guess.

I was trying to say that things are more complex, more multi-layered than that old saw about being burnt-out, that this onion, raw as it may be, peels and peels. Yes, I've worked 60-80+ weeks for the last six years, but so do politicans, lawyers, doctors, and so on. There's got to be more to it than that.

TMAO: I apologize if I simplified your post, but it certainly sounded like you were putting a lot of your life into your work ("pouring" is the term you use)--and that it took an emotional toll on you.

And sure, lawyers & doctors work a lot of hours, too--but it seems likely that in general they get a lot more institutional (and cultural) support for what they do. And anyway a lot of them do "burn out," too.

There is a difference between teachers "burning out"--a kind of mental and emotional exhaustion caused by using up everything you have to give--and coming to a point where continuing to teach seems like an endless trip to nowhere. You might not be burned out, but you just don't see any positive movement or genuine leverage points in a huge, clogged system. You can teach for another 20 years, but you'll never be able to do anything more than slap on a few educational bandaids.

There's always talk about "supporting" young teachers, but this isn't about a traditional conception of apprenticeship, the wise elders offering accrued advice and thoughtful tips to green youngsters. Often, the veteran teachers are in greater need of "support" than novice teachers, and these days, support often looks more like a to-do list. Frankly, there are few opportunities for a teacher with an entrepreneurial or adventurous spirit; in many schools, stepping out from the crowd is a sure ticket to eating your lunch by yourself.

Chris Lehamn had some good ideas-- teachers shouldn't have to be self-sacrificing heroes, and we do need to reconceptualize the profession to build multiple paths to a long-term career. The teachers I admire most are those who looked around after 6 or 8 years and decided that they had to do something to keep themselves intellectually challenged. Lots of them formed networks outside of school, as places where they could have a voice and influence.

The problem, as I see it, is that new teachers are thrown into the job with people expecting the same products from them that they expect from seasoned teachers. If new teachers could be better informed about the realities of teaching, so that they go in more prepared, it might be easier for them to deal with the hard things for the years it takes for things to smooth out a bit.

I imagine we all started off in the world of teaching with ideas of the kind of teacher we wanted to be - but those ideas were founded on sandy ground because we didn't know the truths about teaching. A lot of really good teachers are lost from the profession in the first few years because of this.

TMAO needs to find a mentor among his/her peers, and it need not be one of the seasoned veterans. Not one whom the principal or district assigns, but one with whom you have a common bond (grade level? subject area? hobby?) and trust. It very well might be someone with only one or two years of experience. The goal is to schedule time to talk about the job, laugh about the silly things, commiserate, when necessary about the things that didn't work,discuss data s/he collects on students' progress in classes--this is critical so he can see when things ARE working. Both of you should share--you have as much ability to mentor your partner as they do for you.

Sometimes it's hard to tell that you are making a difference. It doesn't hurt to ask your students, either. Sometimes (depending on how old they are)they can give you the most poignant and energizing feedback that will bolster you when the committee work, staff meetings and public scrutiny wear you down. Make it a writing or journal assignment so you can keep their responses. I was encouraged to keep an "Attagirl" file, with notes, cards, emails...anything that told me what a good job I was doing or made me feel special. That was 27 years ago, and I still open it at least once a month just to read some of those things, sometimes accompanied by tears, but it has been THAT helpful to me; no other resource has served me as well as my first mentor (we still get together twice a year and email often) and the Attagirl file she encouraged me to start...and keep adding to over the years.

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Recent Comments

  • Barbara: TMAO needs to find a mentor among his/her peers, and read more
  • Elaine Plybon: The problem, as I see it, is that new teachers read more
  • Nancy Flanagan: There is a difference between teachers "burning out"--a kind of read more
  • Anthony Rebora, teachermagazine.org: TMAO: I apologize if I simplified your post, but it read more
  • TMAO: I guess. I was trying to say that things are read more




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