This summer will be different for Josh Waldron, the award-winning teacher making headlines with his decision to not return to the classroom for the fall 2014-2015 school year.
For this blog post, Josh generously shared his thoughts on why he’s leaving the classroom (you can read more on his website here) and what other teachers can do to prepare for life after teaching:
Blog Post Gone Viral
In your open letter blog post “The Tough Decision to Leave the Classroom,” you explained that the decision to leave teaching is painful and personal.
Aside from your desire to help students, why do you think you stayed for six years?
It wasn’t until year four that I began to seriously question whether or not I could stay in the classroom. I think most educators enter the field as idealists at heart. As the challenges and frustrations grew, I kept convincing myself that our community would turn a corner.
This optimism — and a desire to be part of the solution — kept me in the classroom. When it became evident that survival was the main priority, then I felt the need to walk away strategically.
On Good & Bad Teachers
My favorite sentence in your post is, “Bad teachers can game any system; good teachers can lose their focus trying to take new requirements seriously.”
What do you think it will take to reverse that all-too-common scenario of policies that distract good teachers and allow bad teachers to continue faking it?
Administrators are in a tough position, but if their ultimate goal is to foster more student engagement, they need to partner with their best teachers and develop a plan for the teachers who fall short of the mark.
One way to partner with good teachers is to remove distractions from their plate instead of adding them. Cutting down these requirements might mean that an administrator has to take a bold stand against their Central Office or the state’s Department of Education.
If administrators genuinely care about the issues that matter, and refuse to implement policies and exercises that don’t, the staff will rally behind them. This would be a difficult step in the right direction.
Furthermore, why do you think jaded or unhappy teachers stay in teaching for as long as they do?
As you know, time flies. I think some teachers get 10 or 15 years into education and then realize that they no longer want to be there. Unfortunately — for them and students — they may not have a strong skill set that they can apply outside of the classroom. This means that they’ll stay in the system, jump through some hoops, and bide their time until they can collect retirement.
The other scenario — and the scenario that’s tougher to accept — is that some caring and motivated teachers are also internally jaded. Guilt and fear keep them in the classroom, because quitting can be perceived as bailing on students, bailing on your co-workers, or short-sighted (because all workplaces have issues).
On Life After Teaching
Another great quote from your article was “Stop by the high school for a sporting event (and I love sports) and you’ll be impressed with the attendance and enthusiasm. Stop by the high school on a parent-teacher night and you’ll see tumbleweed blowing through the halls.”
What do you think it would take to get parents actively involved in schools, especially in rural and urban areas?
This is a tough question and I readily admit that I don’t have any definitive answer. It seems like there needs to be some type of financial incentive. Some parents may not be very vested in their child’s education, but nearly all parents would be interested in some financial benefit for stepping into the arena. Again, no easy solution here. America has an epidemic of fractured and disinterested families.
[Side note — that sounds like an AWESOME punking opportunity. Hold an impromptu parent-teacher conference or PTA session before a sporting event!]
Finally, as a founder and CEO of a flourishing web design business, what career advice do you have for teachers who are looking for a way to translate their skills outside of the classroom?
Teaching at its core requires hard work and ingenuity. If you’re a good teacher, you know how to think outside of the box, connect with people, and plan for the future. I always encouraged my students to take risks and learn from their mistakes. Teachers should do the same thing as they look to translate their skills new creative venues.