Four Philadelphia teachers explain why they quit mid-year

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The kindergarten teacher like his students: those whose hands went up to answer questions and those who struggled to sit in their seats. She savored the impromptu lessons, the spontaneous laughter that emanated from being in a 5 year old children’s room.

But the new teacher quit after winter break, when her job at a Philadelphia public school got too heavy, when heart palpitations, anxiety and nightmares made her say enough. She was tired of working almost every wake up call time, tired to work without the tools necessary to survive circumstances that would make even a seasoned teacher shudder.

“I knew it would be difficult, but it was impossible,” the kindergarten teacher, who asked not to be identified, said of being a Philadelphia educator in a pandemic. “I would come to work and cry.”

His frustration is reflected in the great exodus of educators from Philadelphia leaving mid-year: between Dec. 1 and Feb. 15, 169 of the school district’s 9,000 teachers resigned, a 200 percent increase in resignations from the previous year. same period the year before, when teachers were still working from home, and a 93% increase from 2019-20, the last pre-COVID school year. Additionally, there has also been a 20% turnover at the central district office, which means fewer people available to support schools.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. acknowledged the increase in departures Wednesday, saying it had been “an extremely difficult year” after two already difficult school years.

The school system, Hite said, has taken steps to stem the tide, including offering retention bonuses and early hiring for some hard-to-staff schools. He’s also trying to delay a new instructional management system that would have required teachers to step out of their classrooms more and master new challenges.

“What we try to do is recognize, support and respect educators as best we can,” Hite said.

An employee marketplace and pandemic challenges are certainly at play. But that’s not the whole story. To contextualize the sharp rise in departures, The Inquirer spoke to four teachers who recently quit. Many have asked not to be named because they are looking for new jobs or fear reprisals.

No factors made the kindergarten teacher leave, but at the top of the list was class size: she had 30 students to manage, many of whom had never been to kindergarten and missed out. development milestones because of the pandemic. Philadelphia’s maximum class size is 30 students in kindergarten through 2nd grade and 33 students in 3rd through 12th grade.

“The number alone was overwhelming,” said the educator, who began her teaching career just before the start of the pandemic. “Even on the best days, there was nothing left at the end of the day because of the number of students. And their needs at that age – they need you to tie their shoes, to open things. They need that you teach them how to be in school, how to follow instructions.

A paraprofessional assisted the teacher in her class, but not all day. Some parents were warm and supportive, but others were combative.

It seemed impossible to keep up with what she was supposed to teach, given the children’s social and emotional needs and their varying levels of readiness. She also felt hemmed in by the tests she had to administer and the thoroughness of the requirements, given her greatest concerns.

“I was thinking, ‘Are you seriously worried about my scoreboards when I’m in so much trouble? Can we focus on how to make my class manageable?’ said the teacher.

She felt ready to quit in October, but kept going. Then, during the winter holidays, she had an epiphany: she felt like herself for the first time in months. She quit soon after and was not the only teacher at her school to leave before the end of the year. She feared abandoning her students, but ultimately had to prioritize her health.

It will not be difficult to find work. She has already had interviews and plans to replace the teacher for the rest of the school year. She finally feels healthy, feels happy.

“I’m not giving up teaching,” she says. “I’m just going to see if it’s a little better in another neighborhood.”

Cheryl McFadden does her job well. She came to teaching 20 years ago, a second career after working in sales and as a housing consultant. She had planned to teach for three more years before retiring, but now plans to leave her ninth grade English class at Randolph Technical High School before the end of the school year.

What did she do in was the pandemic, plus district guidelines that seemed absurd and punitive, McFadden said. There’s too much testing and too much micromanagement, she said. Administrative observations feel performative and disciplinary.

Although the classes were large and most of her students struggled with reading, she used to regularly assign novels to inspire children to find at least one book that moved them. His students do not have read novels this year, because administrators told her she was no longer allowed to have children read aloud for reasons they never explained, McFadden said.

His new students – whose last uninterrupted school year came when they were in seventh grade – were behind. So many students were unengaged last year when school took place on a computer screen.

“Last year we had to pass all these students who didn’t come or didn’t turn in work,” McFadden said. “We got past a struggling group of kids to keep fighting. It was bad service.

McFadden’s classes are large, in a windowless room that’s perpetually 80 degrees. Students use Chromebooks in class and write in Google Docs, but many of his students aren’t prepared for the kind of typing they’re being asked to do.

“We have them on a computer all day, they stare at their screens or they stare at their phones,” said McFadden, who bragged about being the kind of teacher who cared about students, called parents, ushered in kids. in class when they lingered too long in the hallways. “Phones win, quit.”

She will work again, but “I will never go back to teaching,” McFadden said. “I wish I had more success stories than survival stories.”

Things were tough for months, but this music teacher’s school year came to a head when he was attacked and kicked out of the school building by a student. He never returned to work; he did not feel safe and his administration could not guarantee that the student would be expelled from school. There were no plans to help restore relations with the students.

“They were just expecting me to come out as a soldier and keep fighting, and I was assaulted,” said the teacher, who worked at a primary school. “A lot of students had mental health issues. They weren’t all throwing tantrums every day, but in a subtle way, the mental health of the students was really taking a toll on the school and the teachers.

The music teacher, a second-grade educator, had an academic coach, but this person “I didn’t have a lot of concrete advice for myself in terms of classroom management, or ideas on how to get to or make the learning environment safer. The school administration, nice but also fairly new people, offered support, he said, but at some point stopped responding to emails and requests for help.

“It seemed like every week there was a new behavior management protocol or new rules – we’re going to lock the toilets from this time to this time and then no one locks the toilets after three days,” said the professor of music. “Nothing took.”

There were endless behavior tracking spreadsheets, numerous phone calls from parents. Due to a national substitute teaching crisis that has hit Philadelphia particularly hard — only 42% of substitute jobs are being filled, district officials said last week — the music teacher has often lost his prep period and his The schedule was changed during the year to spend less time teaching content and more time covering other people’s lessons.

“It was really difficult; I’m still in therapy,” the music teacher said. “I had a lot of nightmares.”

He wanted to transfer to another district school, but was forbidden to do so. He thinks he will teach at a charter or private school next year; it’s a good time of year to look for a job.

“I’m sad it didn’t work out,” he said. “In theory, I’d love to teach for the Philadelphia public school system, even after all the trauma. But the whole system is so misconfigured, and it’s basically my personal safety and long-term well-being.

The secondary school teacher gets emotional when he describes his students: brilliant, dedicated, funny.

“They’re made of magic,” the high school teacher said. And their co-workers are great.

But the high school teacher, who did not want his gender to be revealed, has resigned and will leave before the end of the year for a teaching job elsewhere.

“Primarily it comes down to the fact that neither our administration nor our district trusts us to do our job,” said the high school teacher, who has several years of experience. “Instead, they find a lot of bureaucratic ways to concern us. We do endless progress tracking, endless standardized testing, endless paperwork, endless meetings. We have nothing but heavy work to impose on the students.

The students know something is wrong, says the teacher.

“They know they are not being treated well. They don’t know how good it could be, but they know something is wrong. I have kids who say at least once a week, “I hate it here,” the teacher said.

Some days the teacher came to class shaking. The stress caused chest pains that lasted for four days. They have found another job, but are crying thinking about announcing their departure to the students. The teacher said they hate having a choice, but not their students.

“The system is by design unfair,” said the secondary school teacher. “And we are still working, and we are still being treated badly. It becomes this unsustainable life.

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