Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why Teachers Leave Our Profession: Non-Academic Student Needs

Last year at Skyline High School, our beloved senior, Eric, was murdered while celebrating his eighteenth birthday.

Years ago, in another school and another city, I am wakened by a 3AM Sunday phone call from a mom.  Her son, my student, was dead, killed by his own hand.

I called a student’s mom to talk about where the child might be, since he hasn’t been coming to class.  He’s a runaway, who, for want of some 14-year-old’s idea of freedom has been running to the homes of a friend whose parent is addicted to drugs, his friend’s parent, “Doesn’t care what I do,” the child told his own mother as an explanation to why he had run.  He thought his mother’s idea of school, and chores, and homework was “unfair” and preferred the lassie-faire attitude of the friend’s parent.

Another student comes into class crying because the boy she “likes” is seeing another girl.

A different year and a different girl, and that time the love triangle ends with violence.

Another child, who isn’t coming to my class, is caught smoking cigarettes, and in possession of crack cocaine.

Another child, and another school in another city confides in me that she has been selling herself for meth.

Another child, a few years ago, is cutting my class, wandering the hills behind our school, and finds the skeletal remains of a child who had gone missing a year before.

I tell you these stories not in some curmudgeonly way of shaking my virtual fist in impotent rage and type…  “Kids these Days!”

Quite on the contrary, I love each and every one of the children whose stories I told above.  When we could, the parents, administrators, and I spent hours trying to help the child make the situation better.  The times we couldn't, we held each other and cried over our loss.  They are my kids.  They are my classroom “sons” and “daughters.”  They and their parents know I’ve got their backs – even if that means I am riding them to do better.

I tell you these stories to shine a light on some of the non-academic issues facing our children.  These stories are from Oakland, and the suburbs and the country.  None of them have to do with why Germany and Italy turn to fascism after the Great Depression, nor do they have anything to do with the three branches of government.  These stories are not the topics I was planning of working on when I chose to enter the teaching profession fifteen years ago.

My point is this – teacher-training programs do not prepare candidates for the mountain of non-academic issues that children bring with them to school each day.  The situation is even more extreme in our neediest schools, where many new teachers start, and too quickly end, their careers. 

Can you blame them when they quit after only one or two years?  They aren’t ready for the headache and the heartache of the stories I detailed above.  Would you do better?  If you think so, I am sure Skyline is going to have some openings this June and we’d love to have you join are team and help us make a positive impact in our children’s lives.

Tune in tomorrow, when our intrepid teacher tackles the "third rail of teaching".... parents.

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