Education matters

Teachers tell us why they stay and why they quit

Cardboard box squabble convinced me to retire

Although my pension would have been larger had I taught longer, I retired as soon as possible, after 30 years —and spent the last five of them praying that the Legislature would pass 25-year retirement.

One factor in this decision was personal: The need to care for an aging parent. Other issues were more telling:

  • Monomaniacal principals running their own private kingdoms, issuing contradictory orders and showing no respect for my expertise, for my personal, non-paid time or even for my adulthood;
  • An increasing treatment of teachers nationwide as interchangeable cogs in an educational machine with the sole goal of "programming" students for standardized tests;
  • Lack of administrative support in dealing with students' behavior problems, including serious ones; and
  • Shortage of materials and supplies, resulting in large personal expenditures and a permanent pack-rat mentality.

Some of the principals were not tyrants and most of the students were not disruptive, but the cumulative situation became unbearable.

I knew for sure it was time to go when I realized I was now "crazy" too; I was arguing with a colleague over a discarded cardboard box.

Rebecca Landers, Atlanta

There's a lack of support for teachers by brass

I am a retired public/private school teacher/coach of 30 years. I taught several different subjects and coached several different sports at the elementary, middle and high school level. I helped open up two new schools in Gwinnett County, and also taught in Cobb and Cherokee.

I retired for many reasons: increase in documentation with massive amounts of paperwork, being forced to take computer technology class in which most of the content I would never use in the classroom, lack of support from administration, being required to teach to the test rather than being allowed to design a creative, interactive classroom environment.

I miss the students so very much, but not at all the issues making it hard for us to be a functional teacher in a positive environment.

Billy Viger, Roswell

Teachers 'quit' to move up career, salary ladder

As to why teachers "quit teaching," please include those teachers who "quit teaching" to become educational administrators because:

It's the only way to get the "big bucks." Teachers have to support families, too, and this causes the loss of many good classroom teachers.

They no longer want "to teach" or never really wanted "to teach" in the first place.

No one will admit to either of the above as the reason that they "quit teaching," although both situations are all too true. I also know that we need good school principals and a few administrators, but the bloated accumulation of "nonteaching" educational professionals — one-third of the payroll — is the real tragedy of today's public education.

Bill Geidl, Dacula

Kids ran the school and ran out caring teachers

There was not a more passionate educator that I. Feeling the way I did, why did I retire at the age of 54 when I had many productive years ahead of me?

A new middle school was built in the community where I had taught for 28 years. The challenge of opening a new school was something I looked forward to. What happened then? I was driven out by a weak administration who did not support their teachers.

The children took over. Rather than teaching science, my job became crowd control.

I soon learned I could no longer turn my back to write on the board because the kids would launch pennies off rubber bands with such force that my back was bruised. My trashcan was set on fire. My glasses were destroyed. On several occasions stink bombs were thrown into my classroom. I was treated like dirt under the feet of children.

The good kids — and most of my students fell into that category — were scared to tell on the children who were tormenting me.

I stayed angry not only because of the way I was treated but because so many wonderful students were being cheated out of an education. Both my mental and physical health were compromised. I had become a shell of my former self.

What am I doing five years after I retired? When I am not traveling, working in my garden or keeping my granddaughter, I am back in the classroom as a long-term sub in a system where teachers are supported and children are learning.

Alice Jordon, McDonough

Teaching worked a magical spell on me

It was like magic. I watched Mrs. Dorothy Rucker write on that chalkboard in first grade, and I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life. In these 37 years, I've cried, complained, worried, lost sleep, laughed, and wondered how much more could one person take? But after a while, you discover why you keep going.

The first child I ever retained was a fifth-grader named Al. It had been a hard year, both at home and at school. He moved away the next year, repeating fifth grade, and I lost track of him. I worried incessantly. Had I done the right thing?

Years later, he thanked me for showing him that, "The world didn't owe him anything." He was on the honor roll in high school, earned a practical nursing degree, bought a business, and served as mayor of a small town. Years later, there was A.C. who was "just a big, silent lump" in seventh grade, but he thanked me for not giving up on him. He's now a school administrator. Teachers hear all the complaints every day, but we rarely know the positive results of our work.

Jean Cotton, East Coweta Middle School

I love everything about teaching

Books, desks, crayons, lesson plans, and the exchange of ideas and knowledge. I love it all. Teaching is something that I was born to do. After working in other fields, nothing has been more enjoyable than being an educator. Everyday is truly exciting.

First of all, I love receiving and sharing knowledge. A good teacher never ceases to learn. Secondly, I love the art of teaching. Being able to transmit information to living beings, who will in turn use it to better themselves, takes an artistic approach. I must be creative, proactive and reactive in designing lessons. These lessons and activities must engage students and be real and meaningful.

Lastly, I enjoy setting goals and reaching them. State-mandated standards, school improvement plans, curriculum and required tests presses me to set instructional and assessment goals. I map out a plan of work and work my plan. Everyday, our focus is to move toward our goals. Seeing progress and growth is a great reward. Actually reaching or exceeding these goals is the ultimate prize — mission accomplished.

The first two years of my teaching career were filled with pure joy and fulfillment. I never came to work solely for a paycheck. Every payday, I would forget to pick up my check. Month after month, the secretary and principal would tease me about not needing my check. Sure, I needed it. However, my dedication and focus on being an excellent teacher blinded me from focusing on the money. I teach for the sheer joy of it.

Yolandria Jones-Totten, Kelley Lake Elementary School

Kids need to see men in their school classroom

Why do I teach? As a single male, I can fulfill my need to be a good male role model to children who do not have one in their lives. I have been teaching for 30 years and do not look forward to retirement. My principal personally thanked me for not retiring this year.

Jim West, Saxon Heights Elementary, Dublin

In my memories, my students shine bright

I teach because I love the kids. A teacher does not always see the rewards right away, but she knows that she will always be a part of the child.

I had a student come up to me one day and told me that he owed me an apology. When he told me his name, I remembered him. He had been in my sixth-grade class five years prior. I remembered him as a funny, personable kid. He was intelligent, and I had high hopes for him.

When I asked what he was apologizing for, he told me that he was sorry that he gave me such a hard time when he was in my class. I did remember the behavior after he started describing it. I remembered that he was a pistol in class, and that I always had to get on him. The thing that struck me the most was that I had to be reminded about the behavior.

Why do I teach? I teach because I remember the good times. I may not remember every child's name, but I remember the hopes and dreams that I have for each student. I remember that I really do love what I do.

Beth Parton, Booth Middle School