Why Teachers Quit Teaching

When I first began teaching more than 25 years ago, hands-on exploration, investigation, joy and love of learning characterized the early childhood classroom. I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms.

I think it started with No Child Left Behind years ago. Over the years I’ve seen this climate of data fascination seep into our schools and slowly change the ability for educators to teach creatively and respond to children’s social and emotional needs. But this was happening in the upper grades mostly. Then it came to kindergarten and PreK, beginning a number of years ago with a literacy initiative that would have had us spending the better part of each day teaching literacy skills through various prescribed techniques. ”What about math, science, creative expression and play?” we asked. The kindergarten teachers fought back and kept this push for an overload of literacy instruction at bay for a number of years.

Next came additional mandated assessments. Four and five year olds are screened regularly each year for glaring gaps in their development that would warrant a closer look and securing additional supports (such as O.T, P.T, and Speech Therapy) quickly. Teachers were already assessing each child three times a year to understand their individual literacy development and growth. A few years ago, we were instructed to add periodic math assessments after each unit of study in math. Then last year we were told to include an additional math assessment on all Kindergarten students (which takes teachers out of the classroom with individual child testing, and intrudes on classroom teaching time.)

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Why Teachers Quit – 2 Perspectives (Finland & Harvard)

When I interviewed teachers for my INVISIBLE CHILDREN book, an art teacher cried as she told me how she had entered teaching because she wanted to make a difference by bringing her love of art and teaching together. No Child Left Behind turned her into a warden with little time for sharing art or her passion for teaching with students that wanted to learn. In her perspective, the school scoring mandate meant that troubled students ended up in her room, because there was no worry about the performance in the “art” class. Fifty students, not thirty. Troubled students with violent outbursts, not seekers of art and beauty. She spent most of her time keeping students safe, not teaching the concepts of color and contour.

She was a dedicated, kind, and generous educator that recognized that the politics driving her chosen vocation were ruining her dream and her life. She told me why she gave up.

She was crying when she told me her story on the curb at a Mayday parade in Minneapolis. I will always remember her.

Her story is repeated in the data and the writings I recommend below.

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Why Schools Fail (another year of bad results)

Another year of disappointing educators, children and parents (Star Tribune 7.28.16)

Don’t blame the teachers (it’s us).

The once a straightforward concept of public schools has morphed into a complex institution unable to respond to the double whammy of a massively changed student body and the unprecedented un-building of support for public education (especially science).

Our student body has changed;
First, immigration and the challenges of language and culture have always turned out well. American education has successfully educated millions of immigrants.

Yes, it’s a struggle, but it is what teachers do and they have always succeeded. My grandparents did not speak the language when they arrived – all of their children successfully finished a public school education.

Second and most critical, generally unknown and poorly understood even by those in the trenches of teaching, social work and justice. The rest of us (including legislators) are clueless.

Identifying and responding to the mental health issues shaping this generation of American citizens is decades late in coming and it has overwhelmed our schools, courts and other public institutions.

The explosion of homelessness, suicides, violence among veterans with PTSD have shown us the long lasting and severe damage trauma does to a person. Untreated or undertreated trauma almost always ends badly (80% of youth aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives).

As a 20 year volunteer CASA guardian ad Litem removing children from traumatizing homes it’s impossible not to see how children beaten, molested, starved and neglected need way more help than they are now getting to succeed in school or in life.

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Why CASA Guardian ad-Litem?

After years of watching and working as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem in child protection two things have become clear to me;

1) Abused and neglected children really do need a CASA guardian ad-litem advocate &

2) The system really needs insiders to speak loudly and repeatedly about the real world of America’s child protection system. Workers within the system (besides volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litems) find it politically unwise to say things that reflect badly on the system (at the risk of losing their jobs). Volunteers have

As much as I respect the very hard work done by dedicated case workers (I mean every word of that – there is no harder work), case loads are too high, resources are too slim and few will risk their jobs to speak out about individual or system failures.

If I could change one thing in child protection today it would be the transparency, tracking and accountability that would come from the speaking out by those who witness these travesties every day.

The reason our communities don’t have crisis nurseries, quality daycare and other child friendly programs that would promote learning and coping skills and launch at risk youth into productive lives is that we don’t talk about it. When you don’t talk about it, it does not exist.

“it” being the suicide by seven year old’s on Prozac, sexual abuse and repeated horrific violence against six year old’s that we see when they finally make it into Child Protection.

The only thing the public knows about the at risk children we see every day are the kids that die when the media brings it to public attention (generally showing a glaring system failure but solving nothing).

Until Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune made a focus on just how bad life was for poor four year old Eric Dean, media coverage about child abuse was almost non existent. It is only because of this reporters consistent and intrepid work that Governor Dayton’s “colossal failure” language formed a task force that brought public attention to absurd policies and gross negligence that desperately needed changing, that change happened.

My point is that until a thing is spoken of it does not exist and nothing is going to change. The public has a short memory and the media won’t be here for long.

If all the public knows is that eight very young children have been murdered by their parents and caregivers since Eric Dean’s death after 15 largely ignored reports of child abuse – it is a much smaller problem than the horrific stories that accompany a very large percentage of the tens of thousands of children reported to child protection in MN each year (and the 6 million children reported nationally each year).

Maybe I’m an unreasonable optimist – but if more people were aware of the cyclical nature of child abuse, the prevalence and dangers* of medicating abused children with powerful anti-psychotic drugs (instead of adequate life changing therapies), how common life threatening behaviors are to damaged children and just how costly, impactful and long lasting abuse is for the thousands of children passing through Child Protection every year – we would support programs that would save those children from the terrors they have lived with and will continue to live with (and pass onto their children and the next generation).

All adults are the protectors of all children (thank you Don Shelby)

*about one third of children in child protection systems are proscribed these drugs

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Why Are So Many Six Year Olds On Prozac?

Hennepin County Judge Heidi Schellhas shared her records of very young children taking psychotropic medications that had passed through her courtroom with me in 2005 (for my book, Invisible Children.

It was astounding to see how many six and seven year old children in Hennepin County’s Child Protection system take Prozac and other psychotropic medications. Since the book, I have followed reporting about the medicating of the very young from states and counties around the nation.

Most states that have reported on this topic run between 1/4 and 1/3 of their child protection children on psychotropics and teens in foster homes appear to use these drugs at a higher level. It appears that the use of psychotropic medications by non-foster children occur at less than 20% of the rate as the use of these drugs by foster kids.

Most states don’t track the data and those that do don’t make it easy to find.

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Where Bad Laws Come From (& why it’s not fair to blame the worker bees)

Brandon Stahl’s article in the Star Tribune today suggests that Minnesota is probably the only state in the nation to have forbidden social workers from considering past screened out cases of child abuse in evaluating new reports. Pressured to put a consistent policy in place by a state auditor, DHS institutionalized a policy that would lead to untold suffering and death of abused children for four years (it ended today with the Governor’s signing of the reversal of that bill.

That is just the tip of the iceberg that the Governor’s Task Force is working on. Perhaps with the added attention to the Task Force and Brandon Stahl’s continued reporting we can move up a few notches among the states in what we spend on child protection in MN (we rank 47th currently).

It befuddles me that the studies completed by the Federal Reserve Bank by Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald have not brought the larger business community into appreciating the fundamental issues underlying a productive work force. It may be that the arguments should be made in terms of cost instead of savings. I think it would scare people to know how expensive ignored at risk youth are to our community. A single boy in my caseload cost this county at least 3 million dollars by the time he aged out of child protection (not including the awful things he has done to people).

By any measure, taking care of vulnerable children is duty of all of us and to make you feel better, saves you money and is the right thing to do.

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When Children Can’t Add (or write, or learn…)

America became a great nation because we educated every citizens children.  Our commitment to public education, developed a very smart and able citizenry that worked hard, invented great things and governed itself well.

Because our population was smart and able we led the world in education, public health and public safety and most other quality of life indicators…

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What’s Wrong With New Jersey’s Half Way Houses Is What’s Wrong With America; The Illusion That Privatizing Social Services Saves Money Or Provides Social Services.

First, it is the same government money being spent, just that it goes to an entrepreneurial lowest bidder.

Second, New Jersey’s half way houses are managed the same way privatized day care, juvenile justice, prison systems, & schools are run (to make money for Chris Christy’s friends).

What else explains the lawsuits for understaffing, undertraining, dead children in daycare, and that U.S. daycare workers make less than food service workers (the lowest paid work in America).

This is what we think of children in our nation. Indiana is trying to pay less than $18/daily for foster care & the state redirected funds promised to parents that adopted abandoned special needs children (five hundred children) – after the adoptions took place). Thank you Mitch Daniels. What cruelty.

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What’s Wrong With School Choice? (from GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG)

The proponents of school choice will tell you that they are only doing the will of the people. This is what parents want, they say. Baloney. While there are individuals who support school choice, the overwhelming majority of money behind this movement comes from conservative billionaires actively trying to dismantle the public education system. They want to steal the public system and replace it with a private one. They don’t care about your child. They just want to steal the hundreds of billions of tax dollars we pay to educate our children. This is not philanthropy. It is a business transaction meant to screw you and your child out of your rights.

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What’s Wrong With Kansas Part II (how the state values its children)

No longer does Kansas promise its children a full school year . Several districts are closing early because Governor Brownback effectively eliminated 51 million dollars from school budgets (cut per pupil $950 from 2008 to 2014). We know what the governor thinks of educating children. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that school funding levels were unconstitutional and ordered the immediate reversal of certain spending cuts (hooray for fair minded judges).

Even more repugnant than Brownback’s disrespect for children and education is the all out attack on children that took place in the legislature last year, literally making it legal for any care giver to assault a child and hit them up to ten times (at their discretion). Imagine letting just anyone beat up your child (which this law would have accomplished).

This law reads something like Jonathan Swift’s MODEST PROPOSAL which articulated a public policy making it policy to stew and eat the children of poor Irish parents (because they couldn’t care for them sufficiently anyways).

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What’s The Difference? (and why we should care)

Coming from years as a CASA guardian ad-Litem, child friendly perspective, I see similarities and a correlation between what in business would be labelled “Worst Practices” or, what is happening to the citizens of Ferguson at the hands of an aggressive judicial/policing approach to justice for the citizens of Missouri, and the way America treats children and juveniles.
25% of American juveniles are tried as adults (often 10 and 12 years old), recidivism rates are now at 70% in our prisons -Black men born in 2001 have a 33% chance of incarceration. Almost half of America’s incarcerated youth serve their terms in privatized prisons. Many laboring for as little as one dollar a day.

Almost 20,000 children have been killed by gunfire since 2010,

Thousands of children in child protection systems are medicated by psychotropic pharmaceuticals like Prozac, Ritalin, and Zoloft instead of being treated through mental health programs that could help them gain the coping skills necessary for leading productive lives.

Six million children are reported abused in this nation each year. About ten percent of them receive services in an overwhelmed child protection system. In most states, only the very worst child abuse cases receive any attention.

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What’s It Like?

What’s it like to be;

The admitting person in the psychiatric ward of a metro hospital turning away violently troubled children because there is no space? HCMC in Minneapolis averages about 900 emergency psych visits a month, many of them children.

A social worker, grandparent or guardian ad-Litem visiting a traumatized four year old child in the suicide ward of a hospital,

The first grade teacher who called City Counsel member Don Samuels asking what to do about a student trying to kill himself in her classroom,

The parent of a child with tragic mental health problems and turned away from the hospital or a son held in a cinder block cell for six days because of the no “imminent threat” excuse (when really, there’s just a lack of resources)?

Michael Swanson’s mom who lived years of terror for years trying for to find mental health services for her boy prior to his murdering two Iowa store clerks.

Six year old foster child Kendrea Johnson, who hung herself and left a sad note and the terrible reality that yes indeed, children try and occasionally succeed in killing themselves (contrary to the police and medical examiners Star Tribune statements at the time).

The hospital employees at St. John’s Hospital that were brutally attacked by a delirious patient because their facility did not have the safety features designed to protect staff members from the level of violence often seen in mentally troubled people.

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What’s a Well Trained Social Worker Worth?

It hurts me to know that I live in a state that pays the least of almost all states in training social workers and continues to underfund the federally mandated guardian ad litem program so severely that over six hundred children do not have a Court Appointed Special Advocate even today. A Court Appointed GAL is the only voice abused children have in court once they have been removed from their homes.

The list of underfunded programs for the most vulnerable citizens in our community is long and been growing (we have the money*).

Without the Star Tribune’s continued reporting on child abuse issues, trauma and abuse would still be non-issues as they were when 3-year-old Dennis Jergens was tortured to death in White Bear Lake in the 1960’s. His mother Lois Jergens went on to adopt four other children by moving out of the state.

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What We Think Of Children In America

In one poor school district in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, students take classes in a bus garage, using plastic sheeting to keep the diesel fumes at bay. In another, there is no more money to tutor young immigrants struggling to read. And just south of Denver, a district where one in four kindergartners is homeless has cut 10 staff positions and is bracing for another cull.

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What We Do To Our Children, They will Do To Us

Our precious America, we are taught, is the exception to the world. No other nation can even come close. Tragically, a great many children suffer from a denial of the reality in our country.

The evidence is confirmed by new studies reported in the mainstream media. In March the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of a study of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) among teenage girls. It was a shock. One in five white teens and half of African-American young women are infected with a STD. Across all groups the incidence was one of every four teens, and climbing!

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What We Can Learn From Kentucky (kinship rules)

JEFFERSONTOWN, Ky. – In Kentucky, a lot of children are being raised by extended family members: at 6 percent of all kids, it’s one of the highest kinship-care rates in the nation. A new report from Kentucky Youth Advocates outlines what the group says needs to be done to increase support for grandparents and others raising kids who cannot safely live with their parents.

According to Jeanne Miller-Jacobs, who with her husband is raising their three grandkids, more assistance is badly needed.

“The biggest hurdle that we’ve had is misinformation,” she said. When we first got the kids, the financial part of kinship care never came up.”

She said her grandchildren, ages five, three and one, came to live with them because their parents struggle with drug addiction.

Kinship care has doubled in Kentucky in the last decade, and earlier this year, the state stopped taking new applications for its Kinship Care Program, which provides caregivers $10 a day to help meet a child’s basic needs.

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What Oklahoma Will Show The Nation

The original plaintiffs were nine children who are alleged to have suffered in DHS placements. The case has since become a class-action lawsuit with thousands of children in DHS custody as plaintiff

How many states have caseloads that are just too high to provide a realistic safety net for the children they support? How many states need more training and education for the agency employees, foster parents, and adoptive parents?

I would add that without educating judges, court workers, and criminal justice people, this nation is still on the path to maintaining excessive prison populations and disastrous school performance among the population of abused and neglected children.

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What Makes Us So Mean? (just wait til you’re in diapers)

Tennessee Congressman Stephen Fincher (who receives 3.5 million in federal crop subsidies) told the New York Times that his bible states “he who is unwilling to work shall not eat”. Not my kind of religion.

Walmart pays its employees so little that they need food stamps and have been living without health care. So the government gets to support Walmart employees and add to Walmart profits.

New Jersey eliminated mental health workers in its schools a few years ago sending all misbehaving youth to jail. New Jersey school counselor Thomas Kersting told Fox News that denying lunch to low-income children whose parents had not filled out eligibility forms would be a “teaching moment” (ie, a great idea).

No diapers, no mental health services, no food stamps, and no lunch. What makes us so mean?

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What It’s Like Outstate For At Risk Children – Ogema Today

The Red Lake massacre 13 years ago happened when 16 year old Jeff Weise was ignored and unable to find help after repeatedly talking about homicide and suicide and even posting these thoughts on social media. Within a year after the tragedy, a 3.5 million dollar mental health center was opened on the reservation.

A few years later, I interviewed a police chief from a town of 10,000 people. He spoke of the inability of his officers to provide anywhere near appropriate services or the level of service necessary for health and safety of children and young families in his community.

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