Community forum: Why I left teaching

By Caroline Fournier


For the past 10 years, I’ve been a public school teacher. This career is a true identity shaper, which is why I’m having a hard time with the fact that I’ve chosen to leave the profession. I didn’t think that, at the age of 31, just a few years after completing my master’s degree in education, I would be so disillusioned that I would walk away from a classroom teacher position on Mount Desert Island that I so eagerly applied for just eight years earlier.

Students deserve classrooms that feel inclusive, safe, exciting and inspiring. Teachers work tirelessly to create classroom communities where all voices matter, where curiosity and work ethic are intrinsically motivated and where empathy is the foundation for discussions, partner work and problem solving.

MDI teachers are tasked with meeting all students where they are — academically, socially and emotionally. We build academic goals based on our students’ needs and strengths. We spend countless hours guiding them through their days, helping them to become adults who will positively impact those around them. Based on how students learn and respond, teachers reflect and adapt. These are the expectations of teachers and how we should run our classrooms.

While these expectations for how we should treat our students are excellent, they are unfortunately not upheld in the way we are treated as professional educators. This negatively affects teacher action and, even worse, student action.

We are told to meet every individual student where he or she is, and yet we are handed programs with scripted activities that all students must complete. We are told to build independent problem solvers and yet our input in tackling problems in our own classrooms is often disregarded.

We are told that our district is “whole child” on the same day that we begin a five-day state assessment whose data is meaningless, handed back to families a year later and yet meant to inform teachers’ instructional decisions, via time machine I suppose. Or when we are asked to share a student’s test scores with him or her before the next test so they can try to beat their last score. I can think of nothing further from whole child than that. We are told to help students build social skills while we are also asked to have them read earlier, write longer, play less and work through iPad lessons more.

It feels incredibly frustrating to be a leader in a classroom who understands teaching and learning and to be expected to carry out decisions that you philosophically disagree with. It has been challenging to my core to be told how to teach without being given a chance to advocate for what works best in my classroom.

While all of these struggles and hypocrisies are challenging and exhausting, teachers work through them every day because we have the best job in the world. As I write this, I am still sad that I won’t be working with fourth graders who will be writing their own plays, critiquing each other’s work respectfully, discussing social issues or making scientific discoveries at recess. But there comes a breaking point where one begins to question whether or not teaching even is the same job it used to be.

Many of us who work with young learners enter the profession because we love to be challenged. We find great pride in helping that struggling reader embrace chapter books, or the kid who “is no good at math” defend his answer to a complex word problem. We find great satisfaction in coming up with creative ways to teach our lessons, and in designing them to meet the unique groups of learners in front of us. There is so much creativity and passion that go into teaching, which is why I’ve always considered it a vocation.

And when it feels like those elements of teaching are being stripped away and replaced with increased demands such as data collecting and all the drudgery that involves (for children, that is) it is incredibly difficult to feel like you are doing this vocation justice.

Adding to the stress of a job that is becoming more demanding with more mandates from above is the overarching difficulty of living paycheck to paycheck. This island is expensive. Most teachers do, in fact, work in the summer, not only in their classrooms but in restaurants, shops, cleaning houses, tutoring, etc. These jobs help to cover the costs of living and are necessary.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that current negotiations have not yet produced a fair and competitive contract. While teachers will never give up on students and learning, it feels as though our professional contributions are being minimized and that is hard to reconcile with our excellent results. MDI is a great place to be a student and that is because of amazing families sharing their children with us and it is also because of great teachers.

Fewer people are applying to these teaching positions and many of us who are experienced in classrooms are looking elsewhere for employment because, frankly, it isn’t a great time to be a teacher if you want to be creative, respected and included in decision making about your classroom community.

I am so fortunate to have found a full time job on this island that I love and where I will be able to be myself. I’m just sad that I had to look outside of the field of public education to do so.

Caroline Fournier is a former Conners Emerson teacher. She lives in Bass Harbor.

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