I’m done

Today ends my career as a teacher. After 19 years in the classroom, I turned in my letter of resignation.

I had been contemplating it for a while now. This past year has been difficult, and I work in a pretty toxic environment thanks to poor leadership. A lot of teachers across the county are feeling this way, and there’s a national teacher shortage that we teachers have seen coming for a while now.

The decision to quit was not an easy one. It’s been heartbreaking. I’ve agonized about it every day since school let out in May. I’ve been actively searching for a different job. I’ve been depressed.

But ultimately, it’s the right decision. I don’t want my frustration with my administration to seep into my classroom. I don’t want to be robbed of the joy of teaching my students. And I don’t want to be unhappy, because as my husband reminds me, that isn’t good for anyone. So I had to get out.

But it’s so very sad. And the worst thing is that this could have been prevented. But the district where I work chose not to listen or do anything. Ultimately, it’s a management problem. And they need to fix it or there will be more teachers leaving.

Over 30 teachers quit this past year at my school. While a couple moved away or got a promotion, the vast majority of those who quit did so because of ineffective, unsupportive leadership — this is a preventable problem.

Parents tried to band together to get the district to take action. But that has not gone well because it seems like the district would rather ignore parent concerns and leave things as they are.

Here’s what happened at a parent meeting just last night:

https://www.wsmv.com/2022/07/15/student-brings-loaded-gun-school-parents-question-lockdown-protcols/

https://fox17.com/news/local/parents-get-kicked-out-of-a-school-meeting-for-asking-questions

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/oliver-middle-school-parents-frustrated-with-teacher-retention

I realized at last night’s meeting that nothing was going to change. And I don’t want the upcoming school year to a constant battle with administrators. That’s not healthy.

***

Here’s the email I sent to the district:

Please see the attached letter of resignation. Feel free to contact me if any additional information is needed. This has been a heartbreaking and difficult decision, but I am tired of feeling unappreciated and disrespected. 

This past school year was traumatic in many ways. In some ways, I am relieved to be done with MNPS. But mostly, I am sad. This could have been prevented.

And here’s my resignation letter that was attached to that email:

As of July 15, 2022, I resign my position as a teacher at Oliver Middle School in MNPS.

As a parent in MNPS, I got involved with the Parent Advisory Committee in the Overton Cluster back in 2015. One of the main things we worked on was how to keep parents engaged so they would keep their kids in our zoned schools all the way through to Overton. On some level, we were successful in doing this because many parents joined in to change the negative perceptions of public schools and they did, in fact, keep their kids here. Efforts were made to show support for our schools. This was evident at Oliver Middle and the high level of parent support for all of its amazing programs, from band to drama to athletics. And this helped Overton as well, as parents grew confident and wanted to keep their kids in their zoned schools. 

But over the years, this drive to keep families in our schools got more difficult, and the pandemic didn’t help with that effort. Stories about behavior being out of control and then the incident at Oliver where a student brought a gun to school didn’t help to instill confidence. At the end of May, when all the band directors quit and it came to light that over 25 teachers had also left the school, parents wanted answers. 

Unfortunately, the district botched its opportunity to reach out to these parents and listen. Instead of trying to listen to concerns, parents were given canned responses or no responses at all from school and district officials. As a result, a group of parents set up a community meeting, and teachers who left Oliver began to share their stories. The parents were angry to hear that many of them left because of a toxic workplace and poor leadership, and these parents wanted action. They had lost their faith in the ability of our administration to lead the school. 

At last night’s meeting at Oliver, I was hopeful the district would make an effort to listen to parents. Often times, that is what people really need most: to be heard. But that is not the tactic that MNPS chose to take. Instead, it felt like the school was just covering it all up and trying to move on to the next year. It was a wasted opportunity to listen to parents, hear their concerns, acknowledge what happened, reflect, and then discuss how to move forward and repair damaged relationships. Unfortunately, I fear the outcome of this meeting is further divisiveness and animosity between administrators and families. And I fear the result will be more families choosing to leave Oliver. 

Personally, I am glad my child is done with Oliver and moving on. 

As a teacher in MNPS, I can say I have never worked in a district that is so all-over-the-place with its organization. It is just not run smoothly, and it shows – it shows in the number of people leaving and in the constant state of flux we seem to be in with new organizational structures every few years, new initiatives, new curriculum and lack of training, and no real sense of stability. Granted, it is a very large district, so of course there are going to be changes happening. However, it feels constantly chaotic, and that is a problem. 

One of the things that has suffered is the area of teacher support. When I first started with MNPS, there was an organized and supportive network of instructional coaches as well as content area support staff. But now, it is very different, and it’s not organized or helpful. It feels the district has gone from a supportive stance to a directive stance, and this discourages teachers. From what I have seen at Oliver with its principal turnover, there also doesn’t seem to be a system in place to train and support new principals. As a result, there are principals in place who lack the skills necessary to lead and support teachers. 

With a national teacher shortage, it feels the district should be doing all it possibly can to support teachers. But it is not. It feels like the district has grown its management positions at the expense of its support positions, and in the process, the overall vision of how to actually support teachers has dissipated. This is definitely not how you retain good teachers and build effective leaders.

This past year was very difficult for a variety of reasons. We were attempting to return to normal after an unprecedented pandemic, but we did not really know how to do that well. We were all struggling. Student behavior was more challenging this past year, as was the struggle to get students back into more organized work habits. Though I was able to get through those difficulties and have a great year with my students for the most part, I struggled personally.

Another more serious difficulty, however, was one that did not actually need to exist, and it was the level of toxicity that permeates the workplace at Oliver. This is due to ineffective, weak leadership, a lack of a coherent vision for the school, and very poor communication. This led to the exit of many excellent teachers who could not take it anymore. I served as an MNEA site representative and the FAC Chair this past year, so I heard input from colleagues all year long. They had the same concerns all year long – about student behavior and the inconsistencies with discipline policies, lack of administrative presence and support, low morale and disrespect from administration, how their concerns were not being taken seriously – and these concerns were not resolved, though we certainly did try. This is why many teachers chose to go elsewhere. 

Teaching should not be like this. Going to work should not be this stressful. There should not be tears shed on a regular basis about your job. But that is what many teachers, myself included, experienced at Oliver these past couple years. There are enough other stressors associated with teaching, like behavior management and the time needed for planning and grading, and what we need most is support, encouragement, and empowerment. But those things are not being given at Oliver. Teachers feel expendable and disrespected. And many have quit as a result.

The reason I am resigning is that I do not want to remain in a toxic workplace. We have a reluctant principal who lacks the skills to execute a vision, a bully masquerading as an assistant principal who does not actually complete her job duties, and an incompetent executive director who attempts to lead through fear and intimidation. I am tired of this setting, and for my own mental health, I have to leave. It has been an agonizing, heartbreaking decision. My only regret is that I cannot stay to provide support for my colleagues who are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation. It is my sincere hope that Oliver rises to greatness once again. I want to see students and teachers and programs succeed and will continue to support this school as a member of the community. But let me be clear: until there is a significant leadership change at this school, it will remain an untenable workplace for many teachers.

***

I’ve quit before, in 2016. Those issues are still there — and Tennessee is still a challenging state for teachers. But this time, it’s different. I really tried. But all teachers know the value of a great principal and how hard it is to have unsupportive, ineffective administrators. Good leadership makes a huge difference.

I wish I were leaving under different circumstances. But ultimately, I can look back on my 19 years and feel proud of the work I’ve done. I’ve had wonderful students and feel honored to have been a small part of their lives. I will always remain a strong supporter of public education. But my classroom is now closed.

11 thoughts on “I’m done

  1. Totally understand. Best wishes as you reinvent yourself as someone with less stress, more balance and much more free time in your life.

    Just wondering, don’t you think the lack of a true teacher’s union contributes to the dysfunction described in your resignation letter? My observation in SC is that teachers are sitting ducks with no formal advocacy to protect them from incompetent, retaliatory administrators nor any way to speak out against the idiocy coming from district administrators who have been out of the classroom for twenty years.

    One of my favorite examples: our HS principal had ZERO classroom experience. None. He was a former guidance counselor who got his administration masters. Over his nine year tenure, we went from five-ish new teachers per year, to 21 to 24 new teachers a year. Our faculty of approximately 80 teachers was devastated year after year. This went on the last 6 – 7 years he was there.

    Finally he was removed. He failed upward to a district position of “Superintendent for Students.” Good riddance.

    When teachers have no say, they vote with their feet.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes! The lack of a real union is a problem as well. Teachers don’t feel protected and many times are afraid to speak up. I’m from California, where I taught for 12 years before moving to Tennessee, so I know what it’s like to have a strong union. Makes a huge difference!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so sorry that resigning from this situation was your only recourse to preserve your sanity and promote your future well being. I wish you had a strong teacher association. I wonder if your local board is elected or appointed. Who selects and continues to bring in these ineffective administrators? So sad for you, the kiddos you inspire, and the profession you love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! We do have a great association, but they lack the teeth of a true union – and that is because of our state legislature. It’s very frustrating. Thankfully, we do have an elected school board, but I wish they would do more to hold leadership accountable.

      Like

      1. I hope you will consider running for school board. I know it is too soon to think about it, but if you do decide to run, please let me know and I will do all I can to help.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for your confidence. I have thought about it in the past. I guess we’ll see…

        Like

  3. You are one of the reasons I joined Overton PAC and stayed. You were very helpful to me when I came to sub at Croft Middle School in 2019. I was looking forward to being a colleague of yours once I started teaching and learn from you. Very sad to read this. Very sad.
    I took have quit a job that became difficult to thrive in, so I understand.
    I hope things will get better and you will feel better as you transition into the next best thing.
    Respect always, Bibi

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am sorry to see you go, but I understand. You have to do what’s best for you. I will miss working with you. Your voice is strong and valuable I hope the next chapter is better for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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