Teacher Evaluations Teachers and Teaching

Melissa Bowers: Why I Stopped Teaching

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Anyone who teaches will appreciate the list of reasons that Melissa Bowers gives for leaving her job, after twelve years as a high school English teacher. The lack of authority; the mandates; the obsession with technology; the slaughtering of imagination; the pressure; the daily demands by parents, administrators; the absurd evaluations; the know-it-alls in high places who tell teachers what to do but have never taught themselves.


She writes:


In the twelve years I was a high school English teacher, I watched people leave the profession in droves. The climate is different. The culture is different. The system is breaking, and educators are scattering to avoid the inevitable crushing debris when it all comes crumbling down.


I won’t go into detail about the budget cuts or the massive class sizes or the average salary, as that’s all been discussed ad nauseam. I’m not going to talk about the bone-deep exhaustion that comes from being onstage all day, or the drowning sensation that follows you home on nights and weekends when you have hundreds of papers to grade.


These are the other things — the stuff you might only understand if you have a key to the teachers’ lounge.


She gives her own list of the seven reasons that teaching is in trouble as a profession.


We have read the “I Quit” letter many times, but this one is different. Bowers is an excellent writer. Pick your own personal favorite. This one is mine, the one about slaughtering imagination:


For a while now, teachers have been battling an increasing pressure to “teach to the test.” Despite our banshee-esque warning cries, this situation is not improving. Courses with “real-world” value (home economics, for example, or shop class) are dying a not-so-gradual death, as there is no “Foods & Nutrition” section on the SAT. Art and music programs are still in grave danger — and, in some districts, have already been slashed to ribbons.


An elementary school teacher I know — who is a part of one of the wealthiest, most reputable districts in her state — attended a recent meeting where staff members were instructed to “drastically limit or entirely eliminate” story time. “It’s not differentiated enough,” they were told, “and therefore is a waste of valuable class time.”


The kids are in THIRD GRADE. They deserve to gather around a rocking chair and feed their imaginations. They deserve the magic of a captivating story. They deserve to learn that you can read for pleasure instead of strictly for information.


“Core” high school classes aren’t immune to the damage, either. English teachers look on helplessly as more and more works of fiction are plucked from the curriculum and replaced by fact-driven nonfiction. Even though we’re sometimes invited to join curriculum committees (as I did) under the guise that we might have a say, it’s ultimately just a ruse: we have only as much freedom as our national and state standards allow. At the moment, there is a relentless push toward FACTS. DATA. STATISTICS.


That doesn’t leave very much room for make-believe.


But here’s the thing: discussions about fiction lead to rich discussions about life, which drives something much more important than the growth of a student — it guides the growth of a human being.



But she also knows why teachers stay: the kids.


But if these are the reasons you might leave, here is the reason you might stay: the kids, man. The kids. After a year without them, you might miss their unbridled school spirit during Homecoming Week, their contagious sense of humor, the way they draw pictures for you and wave joyous hellos in the hallways. You might miss their ability to make you forget about the rough start to your morning, or the looks of awe on their captivated faces when they finally learn something that matters.


I am sending this piece to my new friend Whitney Tilson, who seems so sure that the biggest problem in American education is teachers; we need to find those bad teachers and get rid of them. We need to evaluate them by their students’ test scores. I want him and his friends to read Melissa Bowers.

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