To quit or not to quit. That is the question?
It’s the same question I pondered twenty years ago, nearly to the day.
TFA doesn’t publicize this, but a lot of the people who gave up all the other opportunities they might have taken do not complete their two year commitment to TFA. Aside from the sort of chaos this reaps on the students of these unfortunate teachers, there is a serious amount of mental anguish the teacher suffers. Remember, this was one of the best-and-brightest who beat out thousands of people including 18% of the 2011 senior class of Yale. These ‘quitters’ had a lot going for them and now they have to feel like failures and have to explain why they quit to everyone who asks and have to figure out what to do with their lives. Quitting is a decision not, to say the least, to be taken lightly.
Still, about 5% of people quit even before the institute ends. TFA says that these people shouldn’t be teachers if they can’t hack the institute, but I believe many of those quit when they realize they’ve been a victim of the bait-and-switch. They expected a training process worthy of the task and they knew they weren’t getting that so it was best to jump ship before it went down.
Then, 8% of people quit during their first year while another 3% quit during their second year. All told, about 1 in 8 people who begin institute do not complete the two years.
Most of these ‘quitters’ are too ashamed to actually write about it. They disappear and have to suffer their shame internally.
Their suffering is clear. They didn’t want to quit, but felt they had to. They quit because they knew they were doing more harm than good. They quit because their inability to do this nearly impossible job has caused their own mental health to suffer. They had a choice, but they really didn’t.
I noticed today a post by a new CM called The Chief who is pondering quitting for the same reasons that I was twenty years ago. The post is here. Based on the blog name, I think this is a woman, so I’ll refer to her as ‘her’ and ‘she’ so I’m sorry if this is actually a male.
So reading through her older posts we see that she had a typical 2011 TFA training with only ten students in her student teaching experience. I’ve ranted about this before, but let me say again that TFA is actually breaking contracts they make with school districts when they promise to deliver CMs who have had a proper training experience. Ten students is ‘small group instruction,’ not full class teaching. TFA doesn’t seem particularly worried about this. They’ve been doing this since 1994 when they adopted this model to save money.
OK — enough about TFA. Back to this suffering CM.
Should she quit or not? I’ll write as I think and I’m sure I won’t have the definitive answer by the end, but I’ll see what I can do.
Twenty years ago I wanted to quit. I had even told my friends that Thanksgiving was going to be my last day. I didn’t quit and went on to teach for three more years in Houston, winning teacher of the year in my 4th year, then going on to teach for 8 more years and counting, after taking a break for 6 years. Had I quit, my life would have been very different right now, and probably less fulfilling. So there’s one reason to not quit. Perhaps she is destined to be a great teacher who will have a long career and this tough first year is just a small fraction, like a bad first inning of a great pitcher who eventually wins the game.
I once wrote a post called Calling All Quitters in which I asked ‘quitters’ to comment on the experience. I learned that TFA treats quitters like crap. Once the CM says there is no turning back, TFA turns on the guilt trip and says that the CM is hurting TFA’s reputation, and then eventually they stop returning the disgraced CMs emails so the CM is left all alone and miserable. Maybe avoiding this misery is enough to not quit — yet another reason not to quit.
A third reason not to quit is the inspiration derived from all the stories of all the CMs who had rough starts until they simply ‘decided’ they weren’t going to put up with disrespect anymore and from then on they had a great year. There’s three reasons already not to quit!
But, I hate to say this but I believe it, I think those stories are bogus. I believe that it just gets harder and harder until the only way for the teacher to keep any order is just to scream at kids in an abusive manner until they get so sick of the yelling that they are a bit better. That’s what my first year was like. It only got better when there was about a month left in the school year. Take away that last point, and give it to the quitting side. 2-1 in favor of not quitting.
Another factor that I didn’t have to contend with, but which she does, is that fact that I was teaching middle school math while she is teaching elementary school. I could justify my decision to stay since I wasn’t hurting the kids that much since they were just losing out on one subject, math, while their other teachers were doing a pretty good job. An elementary teacher has a massive responsibility. Who wants the be the reason that an entire class of 3rd graders learned very little the whole year. 2-2 tie.
Only this teacher knows if she is getting mentally beat up and whether or not this could cause some long-term damage. It did for me, and it resulted in an obsessive twenty year vendetta against TFA that ultimately resulted in this blog. Will she be writing an angry blog twenty years from now while she has a spouse and a 3 year old and a six month old and has so many more important things to do right now, like figure out how to pay for double daycare in New York City on a teacher’s salary — I hope not, for her sake. No point awarded to either side — depends how resilient she is.
Now, whether of not she decides to quit, there is something she should do regardless, which is spread the word about how inadequate TFAs training is for the difficulty of the task. If she quits, realize that this was not her failure, but TFAs. TFA quitters are so ashamed that they fail to realize that they are victims of TFAs exaggerated claims of how well their new CMs do and how refined their training model is. She needs to spread the word. In this era of blogging and Twitter it is easier than ever to get the word out. I’d certainly allow a guest-post on my blog, whether or not she quits, about this topic.
But what about the 2-2 tie? Well, I hate to be indecisive so here it goes. Though the training she got by TFA was awful, she has learned enough already so that she will almost certainly be effective next year. If you teach for two months and quit, you ‘took’ from America, but didn’t ‘give’ anything back. By finishing out the year and giving it a shot next year, she could have a good second year which will make up a bit for that first year. The final thing to consider is who will take over her classes if she quits. I don’t know the political situation in Kansas City. Are there veteran teachers who have been put in limbo by a school closing and replaced with a charter? So is there a chance that someone much more competent will take her classes and do less damage? Most likely she’s not doing as badly as she thinks. Others might brag about how well they’re doing, but first year teaching is tough. Few first year teachers are effective. I feel like, even with all my experience, if I had to go to a new school I’d even have problems.
So I’m going to break the tie and say to hang on until winter break. It doesn’t get better but, as I’ve suspected about the fires of Hell, you get used to it. But if she is having a mental breakdown, to get away since it is not worth it to be a casualty of TFAs inadequate training model.
If you’re going to quit, the best time to do it is on a Friday after school. That is when you are in the best state of mind since you’ll be thinking “I made it through another week. I can do this one week at a time.” Don’t quit on a Monday through Thursday.