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Why New Teachers Quit

Former CMS Educators Tell Their Stories and Offer Solutions


In a post-Columbine world, what do you think of when you hear the word school? I bet you don't imagine shiny, red apples or the hometown football team. That's because we live in an educational era that has numbed our senses. Classrooms on wheels have created an odd landscape that brings to mind prehistoric playgrounds. The droning on and on about standardized tests has drowned out the sounds of heated class debates. Administrative rules take the place of inspiration. I know; I was once a teacher. In America, there are many people who would love to help mold minds and shape the future. The US Census reports that there are five times as many teachers as there are lawyers and professors and twice as many teachers as there are nurses. And while some districts struggle to attract teachers, the real issue is that once they do, the majority of those new teachers decide to leave. In the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) system, this has become a major problem and a roadblock for any serious attempts to improve performance over the long haul.

Each year, CMS challenges itself to recruit enough teachers so that each school will be fully staffed before students arrive on the first day. But teacher shortage is only a red herring. The true culprit is keeping teachers -- especially the new teachers, who comprise the majority of the teachers who quit CMS. (Of the 1,329 teachers who left in 01-02, only 247 of them were tenured.)

Sadly, it's often the best and the brightest who are the first to go.

Voices From the Trenches

Meet Richard. He taught in Charlotte Mecklenburg County during the 2002-2003 school year. He graduated cum laude from a top 25 university in three years, and earned his masters in one year. He left teaching within the first year. He was one of the best and the brightest. He is now a statistic. Here is what he had to say:

I entered the profession because I really enjoy teaching, I love intellectual experience, I care about kids, and I'm very, very passionate about helping disadvantaged children get greater opportunities. The chance to make a difference in lives and care for people is why I got into the profession.

The pay issue didn't bother me. I make twice as much money now as I did then, but I still live a $28,000 dollar lifestyle. The only difference is that I will own a house sooner than I would as a teacher.

I absolutely hated teaching. I was already counting the days until I would quit in June and leave the profession. There are so many reasons.

First, I hated how disrespectful, rude, and cruel students were. I felt like I came to school every day to be persecuted. Students had absolutely no respect for people, much less authority. Trying to send kids to the office was a joke. They wanted to go there because nothing would happen. The system handcuffs the school from really punishing kids. I dreaded going to work because I was going to be torn down for six hours.

Second, most of my kids could hardly read. I was trying to teach 10th grade English and my kids lacked basic skills. I couldn't do what I was trained to do.

Third, I was asked and expected to do way too much. I know that sounds ridiculous, but way too much responsibility is allocated to teachers. On top of grading papers, we're expected to do extra-curricular activities, attend so many pointless meetings, join committees, etc.

I currently am an account executive for a medical software company, managing accounts over a seven-state range. I have a significant position with a great deal of responsibility, but I don't work nearly as much nor as hard (as a schoolteacher).

I felt that the school stood in my way of doing my job. I wanted to plan good lessons, work with students, and dedicate attention to grading, but so much of my time was dedicated to stupid crap like paperwork and in-service training that was not even close to being beneficial. I would spend 30 minutes a day putting a lesson plan into the proper form. It had nothing to do with content, simply putting the lesson into a format the school district wanted.

I could not handle working for such stupid people. I wouldn't hire the administrators in any school that I have taught or worked in to run a Kool-Aid stand, much less a school. The administrators were incompetent and unsophisticated.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but today my bosses impress me. I learn from them every day. They're like heroes to me. My bosses in Charlotte, with the exception of the teachers I worked with, were a joke. They were so unimpressive, and I didn't have a whole lot of faith in where they were taking us.