Blog Response #5 - Alex Brenner


I wish I could quit you!

In one of those weird, fortuitous reading coincidences, I read the following articles back to back:

On, Why Quitting is Good For You, and on, Please Cast Ryan Gosling as Me.

They got me thinking: When do we (teachers) quit? This question has two meanings: (1) When do we quit the profession, and (2) When do we "quit" students?

I remember as I was finishing up my teacher preparation program, one of the instructors said, "When you're done, you'll know it. Don't stay just to stay." I think her point was that when you are "done" with teaching (i.e., you are burned out), you are not doing anyone any favors by staying. You are making matters worse for yourself, your students, and your colleagues.

As I am on leave from classroom teacher to pursue my Ph.D. in English Education full-time, I wonder if I "quit" teaching. I certainly wasn't done with the profession (although schools and school systems is another story), but I felt that I needed an intellectual challenge that classroom teaching just wasn't providing. I'm much happier and fulfilled being a student again and my work has me thinking about classroom practice regularly and I will be doing my research in classrooms. But, did I quit?

This is related to the second meaning of the question: When do we make the decision that we've done all we can with a particular student and the situation is out of our hands? I remember the last time I was challenged by this several years ago. I had an advisee who was a genuinely nice kid. He started off the year strong and unafraid of asking for help (thank goodness, as he was grade levels behind). A teenage boy openly asking for the teacher's help on something academic was not common in many of the classrooms I taught it, so I was thrilled he was so gung-ho.

That stopped though when his chronic absentee problem came back to life. When I called home to his mother, she seemed concerned but resigned to the fact that she had no control over him. I remember one exchange where she said that he was bigger than her and she couldn't make him do anything. I replied, "Well, he's not bigger than me. I can come over if you want." She didn't take that well and it was clear that she was using his size advantage as an excuse. I don't think she cared.

That didn't stop me. I went to the guidance counselor who called his probation officer (oh ... didn't know about that) and I was filled in on the long-standing problems that had been plaguing this student. It was clear quickly that his problems were bigger than me. But, I still didn't give up (plucky, ain't I?), but to no avail. Several months later, I did give up. The problem was so much bigger than me. Every time he did show up I showed him I was happy that he was there and I was ready to help him. The next day (or, frankly, on several occasions later that morning) he was missing again. Everyone - the principal, AP, guidance counselor, ACS, parole officer, mother, brother, aunt, uncle - had been informed, yet somehow he never got better.

It was a sad situation, for sure, and the decision to "quit" him was difficult. I don't like to say "quit" because I never stop believing that a student can do it, but sometimes we just have to prioritize.



Mr. Fredrick,

    Like many of your other comments, I also am an education major, still studying to become a teacher. I know I still have a ways to go, but your article got me thinking, especially the question "When do teachers quit?" I get the same impression as your friend that when you are burned out and not doing anyone any favors by sticking around, you will know it. Then once you've realized that as a teacher, you've quit working then its time to actually quit working. In your case, I feel that you haven't quit working, you've merely just taken a break; your coach put you on the bench to get a breather and then you'll go back out stronger in the second half.

    The second question, is a more depressing, but I do feel that you were accurate in asking "When do we quit on a student?" because as disheartening as it may be, at some point, students will be out of your control, and you can't help them. Some students just can flat out no longer be helped by you, no matter what you do. In the instance of your case of the absentee student, there was nothing that you could have done to improve his attendance. Contrary to your opinion though, I don't think you quit on him. Every time that he came, you still helped him even knowing that he probably wouldn't show the next day. In that case, he quit on you. So in response to "When do you quit on a student?" the only answer I find suitable is that you can quit on a student, when you're going to quit on all of them by quitting the profession. Alex

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