Teachers quit in Florida, citing ‘toxic’ conditions and a ‘testing nightmare’

(iStock) (Michael Quirk/iStock)
June 5, 2019

Florida has a serious teacher shortage. During this school year, there were more than 2,200 vacancies at one point or another. Why?

In a recent post, Fed Ingram, Miami-Dade County teacher of the year in 2006 and now president of the Florida Education Association cited several reasons, including low pay and little respect from policymakers.

There are, however, other reasons. The words of two teachers who have resigned help explain what is driving some of their compatriots to leave.

On April 30, a teacher in Florida published a post on Facebook explaining why he was giving up teaching after 20 years in private and public schools. Jonathan Carroll, who taught at South Lake High School in Lake County, wrote in part (referring to his wife, Dana):

I am leaving the field of education. I have had so many wonderful memories. But it has become a toxic profession. I think of what I thought I would be doing as teacher. Opening minds, debating history inspiring the next generation to reach higher and learn from the past. But education has become something else. I think of all the things I did not sign up for … like micromanaging administrators, mental health counseling, blueprints with no freedom or flexibility (even though you can not enforce planning), not being considered an expert in my chosen field even though I have a graduate degree. Students overdosing on drugs and collapsing in my classroom when they get back from the bathroom. Active shooter drills. Teachers being armed. Knowing where it is safe to hide in my classroom. Feeding and clothing my students. Buying my own supplies. Being told I should be thankful I have a job and to get over myself. I am tired of the constant testing. We have testing coordinators at each school. Being told that if a student fails it is my fault not their fault. I am tired. Tired of everyone else knowing better and being chastised if I dare ask questions or challenge leadership. So this May, I am walking away. I am going to stay home for awhile (thank you Dana) and start a new chapter. Honestly, I’ll break even if I become a bankteller with no experience. But the truth is I will not miss what education has become. A soulless industrial education complex where admin cares more about the test scores than their faculty or students. I have loved teaching many of you. But it is time to ride into the sunset. Start enjoying life. And find happiness again.

And there is Shanna Fox, a 20-year veteran public school teacher in Polk County, with 15 of those years in a middle-school English Language Arts classroom. She is a National Board Certified Teacher whose 4-year-old daughter is preparing to enter kindergarten this year at the local public school.

Here is her open letter of resignation:

Stand Up and Fight – An Open Letter of Resignation

There is no business model that can fix education. Students are not products and services that can be quantified. They are living, breathing human beings and their complexity cannot be reduced to cells on a spreadsheet.

Each child comes with their own set of needs, strengths, and abilities. Teachers must be provided the freedom to address those in the way that they professionally know is best based on their training and education.

My expertise is in a Language Arts classroom, so this is what I see most clearly. Students can analyze the hell out of a text. But testing has chipped away at the time teachers have to help their students write to inspire, write to express, write to create, write to change the world.

Because what matters, in today’s education system, is one single way of writing. The thing is, our students are whole people, and this only provides them a chance to show a tiny sliver of who they are.

It’s not only Language Arts, though. This toxic testing nightmare has stripped students of the opportunity to foster their creativity in every single subject area. Children are being denied the right to express themselves in their own unique ways. They yearn for the chance to be artistic and imaginative, to be inspired and inspire others, and to innovate and build and solve. They are capable of more than simply working toward a test score. They deserve more.

And it is time for me to stand up and fight for them and the profession I love.

After twenty years, the decision to resign did not come easily. In fact, it has taken me two months to process and collect my thoughts and to muster up the courage to share them here.

Leaving my stable, secure career as a classroom teacher was risky. I was willing to risk everything because giving it all up feels like freedom in comparison to the restriction in which I was living.

My decision to walk away was not impulsive. It was years in the making. I almost walked away last year. I almost walked away two years ago.

When I finally gained the courage, it wasn’t the administration, the school, or the students. And it certainly wasn’t my wonderful colleagues. None of those things drove me away. Instead, I was battle weary from years of working in a broken system. And honestly, I could not face another testing season.

I thought this transition would be more difficult than it has been. I thought I would be devastated and depressed. But I haven’t been. Now, I realize why. The truth is, I have been grieving the loss of my profession for years. I was grieving the time I used to have to foster meaningful relationships with my students. I was grieving a time when I was trusted to teach well, based on my training and knowledge. I was grieving a time when student creativity was valued over a test score.

But that simply isn’t the reality anymore.

Over the past six years, I changed grade levels, campuses, and roles. I even returned to the school that felt like “home” with the people who I consider family. I searched tirelessly for the thing that would reignite my passion for teaching and renew my sense of hope for the future of the public school system. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find it.

And I’m not alone. This has been called a silent strike – teachers exiting the profession prematurely or retiring early. But I, for one, will not leave silently. Although I can no longer work within this broken system, I will stand and fight from where I am now. I will work to fix it.

I am not writing to encourage others to leave teaching. This was a personal, individual decision that I made to preserve my physical, mental, and emotional health. But if you do decide to walk away, as I did, please do not be silent. If you’ve already exited or retired early, for your very own unique reasons, please speak up. This shouldn’t be a silent strike. It should be the loudest protest of all time because speaking up for public education is speaking up for our children and, quite frankly, for the foundation of our democracy.

To my colleagues who continue to work for change within their classroom walls, I am standing by your side. I support you. I know you are doing what is best for your students, even with mounting pressures, longer task lists than ever before, and mandates upon mandates. I applaud your strength and dedication. I can’t wait to meet Bella’s amazing teachers during her upcoming journey as a public school student. I hope they are just like you.

To my former students, you are the reason I stayed for twenty years. As a teacher, I learned so much from you. And now, I marvel at your continued success, your ability to achieve your dreams, and your capacity to tackle the obstacles of life. I was proud of you then, and I am proud of you now – every single day.

To the Polk Education Association, I thank you for your tireless efforts to quell the overwhelming tide of negativity. I know that you fight tooth and nail for every single right, benefit, and dollar that PCPS employees get. I am proud to have been a member of the union. I may not be working from the inside anymore. But I will be here, battling right alongside you. After all, you’re the ones who taught me how.

I’ll be honest. When I was a Polk County Public Schools employee, I didn’t take a stand each time there was an opportunity to do so. But I know that I did not take this career risk to sit on the sidelines and watch.

I’m standing now.

I am standing for our students.

I am standing for our teachers.

I am standing for public education.

In solidarity,

Shanna R. Fox


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