I Resign / by Jefna M. Cohen

Originally published March, 2016

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m writing to formally resign from my teaching position.

I will miss the many incredible colleagues I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching alongside a driven, thoughtful, intelligent and tenacious staff. They conduct their work with humor and heart. They regularly work overtime. The teachers push themselves for excellence, and ask that of their students.

But, the drive for student achievement, and the ways in which the district chooses to pursue this comes with costs. During my nine years here, a widening gap grew between what I was being asked to do, and what I believe is right for children. As I worked to fulfill the requirements of the curriculum and the obligation of the instructional minutes, it became more difficult to meet kids at their developmental place in life.

I got to the point where I did not feel good about much at all. I constantly worried about student reading data, even though I met with every child in a small group nearly every day. It was not enough. Most students were still not reaching grade level, an all too common story in high poverty schools.

I stressed about how tight my transitions were, and about the wasted time. I began to think of teaching citizenship and social problem solving as “extras,” when in fact, these skill sets make up the underpinnings of our society. The use of visual arts to express learning, and other thematic, project-based instruction was difficult to manage within the strict curricular framework. There was less and less time for me to give students what I feel they need, and fewer opportunities to teach in the ways I love.

I hated the guilty feeling that crept in each time I gave my kindergarteners or first graders a second recess. Principals would scold us if we took the kids out too frequently. The minutes to play weren’t allowed in the schedule, even though their bodies need it. After all, the CDC states that kids need 60 minutes of exercise per day. Other schools in North America are getting wise to the ways that fitness can be used to boost student performance and mood, as documented in the work of Sparkinglife.org.

Class sizes consistently hovered around 30. Parents were not able to come in and help. A one-to-thirty ratio wasn’t effective, and I felt it. This invisible weight sat on my shoulders all the time. I grew increasingly insecure about my teaching abilities, and thus, unhappy. I felt more and more like the square peg in the round hole.

I had been hoping to eventually return to the district, and was holding out hope that class sizes would come down, and daily physical activity would increase. But, this hasn’t happened. As I reflect on my work with the district, it comes down to the lack of those two essential elements that have made it difficult for me to feel good about my work with children. How this translates, on an everyday basis, is too many restless kids in one room who are not ready to learn. This was painfully obvious during the afternoons.

There is a light at the end of all of this, and that is the new teaching opportunity at my neighborhood school. Nineteen of the twenty students are grade-level readers. They get two lengthy recesses per day. I’ll be able to teach in ways that are more in line with what I believe. I hope to find the joy in teaching again, and maybe get more years out of this career, yet. I’m ready to find out.