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Why I Quit Teaching

Before explaining why I quit teaching, I should say that I respect and admire the teachers who stick with the profession and who come to the classroom every day for the right reasons. Teaching is not an simple job – it’s not a terribly hard one either – but teaching well requires an emotional effort.

For every single public school teacher, there are literally hundreds of personalities to deal with each semester and often every day. My comment, sadly, is that a fantastic part of those personalities have small to no investment in actual education and believe that time spent in the classroom is worthwhile.

Apathy is an epidemic at this point and education has been taken over by caretaking and test taking.

Teachers Don’t Have to Quit Their Jobs to Quit Teaching

My tale is rather simple. I quit teaching to open a coffee shop because I didn’t feel like a teacher. At the end of a school day, I did not feel I had done something excellent. Frankly and simply, I felt terrible as a result of my experiences as a classroom teacher. I went home tired, depressed and mad.

The satisfaction of endowing students with real, useful knowledge was not part of my day-to-day life in the classroom. That satisfaction really nearly never came in my experience as an English teacher.

The reasons for this conspicuous absence of effectiveness didn’t come out of an actual ineffectiveness in my teaching methods. My “regular ed” students passed the standardized tests easily – even my lowest performing students. My honors students passed the AP English exam at a higher rate than the students of other AP instructors.

My methods were sound. My passion for literature was clear and clearly communicated to my students. Yet my attitude was far from ideal in the classroom situation I found myself in (which was a situation shared by teachers across the country).

The Incorrect Attitude

The custodial nature of public school has long been acknowledged in America. Kids are sent to school by law and by law are to be kept safe inside the walls and halls of the academic institutions of grade school, junior high school and high school until they are ancient enough to take care of themselves. It is the school’s job to take care of the students, primarily, and if possible also teach them something.

Security guards stand at the gates of many schools today to keep out intruders and to keep the students in.

The mandatory schooling policy has long led students to revile and disdain education. It is a dynamic of powerlessness for the students and it leads honestly directly to apathy.

Time after time I had to tell my students that if they wanted any power in the “real world” after graduation, education would give it to them. If they wanted the power to go out of their parents’ houses, they would need to know how to write an essay. As weird as that connection seems, it’s right. It’s not that knowledge is power, but a BA is often a ticket to employment and writing skills are essential for college graduation.

Every day was a fight though, a fight against the apathy of my students, which leaked into me. And that didn’t take long. With all the testing days and the many compromises they posed to my teaching, the job presented itself as a venture devoid of creativity, devoid of content, and lacking a point beyond the custodial role of the automaton proctoring exam after exam. So I quit teaching. There wasn’t much teaching going on that didn’t require me to convince my students that they should learn because it was excellent for them.

In the end, as an mad caretaker, I quit teaching because I just wanted to teach, not coddle, not excuse, and not count heads. I wanted to talk about books, but I couldn’t. So I quit “teaching”.


As a result of the state standards system (which outlines the dozens of subject-specific concepts to be taught at each grade level) and especially as a result of new district wide “bench mark” exams that were added to the existing state tests, the job of teaching had all of its potential creativity zapped out.

I know that some teachers do not quit and they stick with the job and find ways to satisfy their creativity and their individuality in the classroom. Maybe my individuality was too embittered by the pointlessness brought into the job by this single but significant number – one out of every nine days of the school year was a test day.

This doesn’t count the chapter tests or the normal English exams. This number only counts the number of days where my students sat for mandatory standardized testing. One out of nine days is too many. You could say that I quit teaching because of this number.

When I spoke up at a testing meeting where teachers received instructions on how to proctor one of these many exams, a reprimand was quick in coming down the pipes. I was called out for complaining that the tests were not helping our students but hurting them. There was no time to teach and to learn with all that testing going on, even if we could convince them it was worth some effort.

I quit teaching because the other teachers at that meeting complained constantly about the testing in private but said nothing when given an opportunity to speak up in a forum where it might have mattered.

I quit teaching because the apathy had set in and set in deep across the system. There are well intentioned and even effective teachers working despite the stark challenges that face them. If you question them how we should change our modes of education to better prepare students for the future, they will all have at least one answer, but, and it won’t be to keep doing what we’re doing.

Eric Martin is an artist and writer. Look for more of his work in The Stone Hobo, the Antelope Valley Anthology, The Open Doors Poetry Zine, Failure of Theory, Euclid’s Negatives and on stage. He is an owner…  View profile