Why I Quit Teaching In The Public School System (It Wasn’t Just Covid)

By Hayley Lewis··  6 min read
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why i quit teaching in the public school system

I’m a born teacher, it’s my life’s calling. Every aspect of my life has been geared towards the goal of becoming a teacher, and specifically a public school teacher.

I’ve been given incredible opportunities in my own life and always had a deep desire to give back to those less fortunate than myself through the means of teaching. 

I wanted so desperately to make it beyond the “most teachers quit after five years” statistic. And I did, but just barely. Although distance learning was the final straw for me, there were many other aspects of the current public education system that slowly led me to realize the broken system can only be changed from the outside.

Systemically Broken

The American public school system is beyond repair. I honestly don’t know where you even begin attempting to fix a system that’s so systematically flawed. Policies are made by those who haven’t been in a classroom in years, if at all, and show the extreme disconnect between the theoretical and the everyday reality that is the life of a teacher and their students.

Policies are made by those who haven’t been in a classroom in years, if at all.

The chances of having a high-quality curriculum are next to nothing, and if you’re lucky enough to have something that’s worthwhile, there are so many other hoops to jump through and issues that arise, it makes it virtually impossible to teach effectively and to truly prioritize the learning of children. Parents, teachers, and administrators have little concept of what constitutes “quality” education, and the few who do are unable to provide such means of learning. 

Large numbers of students in classrooms make it nearly impossible to provide differentiated instruction — the quantity of children is just too high to get to in a day. Teaching five subjects to 30 different children, all with varying levels and learning styles is nearly impossible in a perfect world scenario. But throw in classroom management, heightened behavior issues, standardized assessments and other requirements that have no immediate impact on real learning, and the chance of truly meeting the unique needs of a diverse group of students is next to nothing.

Little Time Is Actually Spent on Preparing the Content That’s Taught

Throughout my career, I was always at school one to two hours early every day, frequently stayed late, and almost always took work home with me at nights and on the weekends. Most of the time this work had little or nothing to do with the actual content of what I was teaching or what my students were learning. It was often the pages of documentation that teachers are required to keep up with. I’m certainly glad I did because it saved both myself and the schools I worked at from lawsuits on multiple occasions. I don’t say this to simply complain about the workload, but to point out the few moments that were actually spent on carefully planning purposeful and high-quality lessons. 

I worked before and after school and on the weekends to keep up with the required documentation. 

Most of the time “lesson planning” was spent racing to make a few copies so I had something for the kids to do that was aligned to whatever standard was supposedly relevant to the whole class. Rarely did I have lessons that were carefully planned out, with students’ needs at the forefront of my planning, considering the skills they brought or lacked in relation to the lesson. 

Now, most skilled teachers have enough resources (that they’ve provided) on hand to create these lessons on the go, which is what ends up happening most days. It’s adequate and does generally give the average kid an education that covers the basics. What it doesn’t do, however — which is truly the crux of the issue for me — is provide truly high-quality lessons that engage students and foster a depth and love of learning.

Not in it for the Kids

Most schools really aren’t doing right by most of their kids. The system is so huge that the average kid falls through the cracks. Students who excel are brushed aside to make way for those who demand more attention, either academically or behaviorally. The students who only struggle academically are often pushed to the bottom of the “need to be tested” list because of the severity of the behaviors of other students whose needs, for the literal safety of others, demand priority in being addressed. 

Students who excel are brushed aside to make way for those who demand more attention.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every single one of my students. Those who had disabilities, those who threw tables at me, those who were quiet, those who bothered other kids, and those who were brilliant and kept me on my toes. I loved them so much that I frequently made myself sick with worry, knowing that no matter how hard I tried, I was falling short for each of them, in their own way, on a daily basis. 

For years I told myself that I did more than most teachers and that the kids I had were better educated and better taken care of than they would have been had I walked away, but this past year ultimately made me feel like sacrificing my mental and physical wellbeing to give kids 60% of what they deserved, even though that was more than most, was no longer a choice I could make in good conscience. 

Things Are Not Getting Better

Because ultimately, killing myself wasn’t really making the system any better. I had held positions of leadership and saw opportunities to become an administrator and run my own school. But I still knew that I would be beholden to a broader system of standards, testing, requirements, and polished documentation that left behind classrooms full of kids who still didn’t get what they really needed or deserved. 

I have a duty to make this world a better place and that wasn’t happening as a public school teacher. 

I could continue perpetuating a broken system, or take a leap of faith and try something on my own. My heart broke leaving the students who I know need the most support and love, but if I want to help more kids like them someday, I’m going to have to find a better way. Sadly, that way doesn’t lie in the current system, and if I don’t find it, then I’m going to make it. 

Closing Thoughts

I’m not sure where this new path will take me, but I know that I have a duty to make this world a better place, and that was not happening where I was before. It’s my deepest hope that I can pave a new way and be an example to future educators, showing them that it’s ultimately worth the sacrifice to give children the quality education and love they all deserve.

Seek Truth. Find Beauty.
© 2022 Evie Magazine

Seek Truth. Find Beauty.

© 2022