Ask a Teacher

This is Why Teachers Quit

Looking for a message about your value as an educator?
Well then, an over-the-top active shooter drill is a perfect addition to the “reasons why teachers quit” list. Teachers know there are better ways to save lives. Subjecting children, schools, and teachers to the sick, sad theater of these drills is just one more trauma no one needs. And if anyone knows this, it would be teachers. They choose to take on a mission, and for thanks, they get bent over a barrel in a test-and-punish “accountability” paradigm that turns them and children into numbers. Meanwhile, those making the rules ignore the struggles and traumas actually impacting student outcomes.
And the professionals in our classrooms get to practice being shot? Jesus, take the wheel (and mind you, I’m not really religious).
One of the teachers involved in that suddenly well-known incident in Indiana said, “They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing.’ They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times. It hurt so bad.” So, you want to know how much our policymakers value educators? Want to know why teachers are quitting and why fewer go into the field?
You need to look no further than the Crossroads of America.
The story about Indiana school teachers being shot with rubber bullets, execution style, during one of these active shooter drills, is and should be an alarm bell, but it’s far from the first. Those bells have been ringing for decades and only get louder with passing time. Educators are continually misused, under-valued, and disrespected. They are reminded daily how much more they should be doing to clean up the messes created by failed, immoral, economic and social policy. Now, apparently, a whole class of educating Rambos is needed to straighten out this crap. Now, quite literally, their professional development might include how to take a bullet.
What the ever-lovin’…
Next year will be my twentieth in the classroom. Back in the day, the beginning of the school-year training and preparation was about new strategies. There were “make and take” sessions with your teaching teams. That approach helped teachers to welcome kids to a new school year with new strategies and fresh materials to use. In the last five to eight years, I have seen a shift.
Now, we are equipped with an understanding of the hell some of our students are living through. We learn about the drugs in their neighborhoods and homes or the poverty and transiency their families have to navigate. This past year included an “all the clever places kids hide drugs” offering as well as an active shooter presentation. We haven’t got to the being shot at with fake bullets stuff, but the officer let us know that if we do get shot, it isn’t usually like in the movies where we immediately fall over dead. In that case, we will be able to keep on fighting while injured. That, of course, is unless we’re shot with one of those assault-style meat grinders that turn your insides into hamburger. You know, the type of weapon showing up frequently at mass shootings.
Fun huh? Spirit lifting.
In the real world outside of school, societal rot, moral decay, and economic disparity have worked together to lift a festering orange turd to the highest office in the land. Inspiring, maybe, for the simple fact that it shows anyone really can grow up to be president, I guess. But inside our schools, we are being the “catchers in the rye” (apologies to Salinger) trying to save as many as possible from all that desperation and instability. In the most horrible of cases, the most desperate end up trying to shoot their way to a solution. Do we really just wait to react when it happens? Passively submit to being trained on how to hide, run, be shot…wait to fight until the moment we really, really must? Do we just watch while more and more talented teachers quit their calling and flee?
Before I go on, let me tell you that our schools are more powerful than that. Teachers, if you are reading this, you are more powerful than that.
Are we dedicated educators or sacrificial lambs?
We have to be determined to be done. We have to be done being the kick-bunnies, the scapegoats, and the submissive sacrificial lambs. Public schools do not and cannot heal the public; they reflect the public they serve. But if that one-more-thing we must be responsible for is thrust upon us, then we need to take charge, and take control. This means that the way leaders are treating us and using our schools needs to change. If they are incapable, then they need to go, and we need to make it happen.
Time to choose!
It’s about the choices we make as a society as well as the choices we avoid. When we need to spend our professional development time practicing being shot, avoiding a shooter, confronting a shooter, then it’s the “school choice” no one is really talking about. It’s great if parents who are active, loving, and involved have the ability to “choice.” They can whisk their kids away from other children and to schools freed and empowered to do more, but is that the best we can do?
If I could, I would choose to not have students shifting between foster homes and custodial aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I would choose stable homes, living wages, health care (physical, mental, emotional…), and parent/guardians that were positive and productive influences. I would choose to not have people shrug and say, “Oh well, you knew what you were getting into when you went into teaching.”
First, I have no belief in an invisible sky man who knows my every thought, and I have no love of The Heritage Foundation, but sometimes the religious folks get it really, really right. The Foundation, in its observations about school shootings, writes:
If we are going to get serious about school safety, we must soberly acknowledge the fact that mental illness, broken families, and economic insecurity all play a role in many, if not most, school shootings.
My choice
I choose to not get shot-for real or for “pretend” with rubber bullets. There are much better ways for teachers to be spending their time these days: collaborating with each other, strengthening their school community, elevating their teaching game as well as improving the outcomes for our future citizens. So here’s my proposal:
We step up as a profession being charged with adhering to BS being called “common core”, “college and career”, “next-gen”…or whatever the hell new fancy words people who don’t do the job want to slap on to the stuff my colleagues and I already do. We should explicitly focus on standards in the area of civics calling for awareness, participation, and action/involvement. This means school-sponsored field trips where yellow buses are loaded and communities deliver political messages en masse, not partisan, but political. We stop being silent and compliant because we don’t need anyone to define the battlefield for us. We are apparently on it every day.
I no longer want to wait for the fight to be imposed on me. Maybe our unions will jump in with some position not designed with concessions and compliance in mind. Whatever it is, I’m not quitting. If I’m taking any bullet, it won’t be on my knees facing a wall.

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