Why teachers quit after 5 years: Big Brother isn’t watching you.

Originally Written 5/13/2010

I just realized something. You know how they say that it is the 5th year that determines whether you will stay in teaching or not? Well, I always wondered what it was that happened in that 5th year that scares so many teachers away from teaching and you know what? I just figured out what it is…

I remember my first year, the “hardest year” for any new teacher. It was terrible. I worked in the ghetto of Stockton, CA. Directions to which included the phrases “lock your doors”, “ignore the hookers”, “pass the Yum-Yum donuts”, “turn left into the ghetto” and “over the railroad tracks”. I had never taught a day in my life. I had never subbed in a classroom. I had never student taught. I had never been in charge of anyone before and I was teaching (dun dun duuuuuu) Middle School. Oh my goodness it was terrible. I had gang bangers, crack babies, fights inside of my classroom, profanity written on the walls and yet, somehow, this would not be the defining moment which would make me realize that I did not want to teach. Somehow I survived that year and moved on to teach 4 more years of High School.

That last year though, that defining 5th year, I realized something. I realized that after the 4th year of teaching that it stops get any easier. By the 5th year you know your curriculum, you know what is expected of you and, most importantly, you know all of the gaps, loopholes and politics involved with education that suck the life out of you. You realize that children will try whatever they can to make you bird walk, that they don’t want to learn and that you- as the teacher are not only leading a horse to water, but are forcing it to drink. By the fifth year you realize that you care more about the student’s grade then they do and that numbers and “growth” are more important then people- then education- then teaching. What you realize, is that you have no accountability- that being a good teacher is a choice. You realize that Big Brother isn’t watching you.

Those teachers who continue teaching after year five do it because it is their passion and they are self motivated- because they don’t need anyone to tell them that they are doing a good job and that self satisfaction is it’s own reward. Either that, or because they want a job where they can coast and have little accountability- where there is a “closed door policy”, where the teacher wont have to teach.

But the student, the student doesn’t want to learn either. It is true that many blame the terrible teaching (which I am sure there is plenty of going on) and many teachers blame poor parenting (of which, again, I am sure there is plenty of going on) but we can only control ourselves- not others. So by year five we realize that we are alone.

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If there is one thing that I have learned from teaching…

If there is one thing that I have learned from teaching, it is that I do not know anything at all. My students have taught me so much about love, life and the meaning of family. I am able to express myself confidently because I see them take that same risk every day and are rewarded by it.

I owe them my confidence, my pride and my heart for they taught me what acceptance meant and the value of life.

A student once wrote an essay about the stress that she is put under by her family to receive excellent grades. She described the hurt that it caused her and how it drove her to suicide. She described the feeling of the rope around her neck. She described her last thoughts. She described how she realized that she needed to live for her sister and how hard it was to go to her family for help and how they showed her an endless amount of love when she shared her pain.. She described feeling absolutely useless and absolutely accepted and in a matter of four pages she changed the way that I see my students and my world.

She taught me to seek out help from those I fear judgment from for they are often the ones who love me the most.

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Yea, I judge you

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I try really hard not to judge people or think that I am better than anyone. I recognize that everyone has something to offer and that I can learn from. Sometimes I can not help but judge people though.

    What do I judge people for?

Not being self reflective.
Not considering the points of view or motives of others.
Being selfish.
Being inconsiderate.
Ignoring me.
Using me.
Being a foul weather friend.

I don’t think that I am asking too much. I want my friends to be considerate, have some level of self-actualization and who are consistent. It turn out that those traits are harder to find then I ever thought.

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