Why I Care That You Quit Your Teaching Job

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Unlike Ian Bogost, who tells us here that he doesn’t care that you quit your job in academics, I do care that you quit your job. And before I rush off to teach my classes today, let me briefly tell you why.

I care that you quit your job because too many good people who understand the greater good colleges and universities provide our country are leaving because higher ed, in so many ways, has become not much different than corporate life. So when those people quit, that may be one less voice we have to help right the ship.

I care that you quit your job because when good people leave those jobs, in my experience, they’re replaced with people who are judged (sometimes incorrectly, but not often) as people who will not rock the boat and who will happily do the bidding of the people with really, really bad ideas. And that’s if we’re lucky. If we’re not lucky, those tenure lines are replaced with adjuncts who earn ridiculously low pay and no benefits for doing the work that helps keep our more tenure-line cushy jobs possible and we become a part of that exploitative system that’s just grown by one or two more.

I care that you quit your job because while it is true that faculty jobs in higher ed have perks, such as flexible schedules, those perks were earned by years of additional schooling, very delayed gratification relative to most others, and for a salary that’s often a fraction of what one could earn in the corporate world, even though there’s no corporate world without universities and colleges. And more often than not, in my experience, the people that make the decision to teach (at whatever level) do so because they are willing to put the goals of continued research into our world’s most difficult problems and the teaching of the next generation of problem solvers before their own financial interests. So when someone who spent years earning a four-year degree and/or advanced degrees because they want to put the greater good that is a career in education over their own financial interests quits that job, I care.

I care that you quit your job because those who say they don’t care that you quit your job may be incorrectly assuming that the privileges they enjoy at their jobs are ones that all faculty enjoy, such as the privilege of being relatively anonymous in a huge system while others fight the important battles for you, and that’s simply not the case for most others who exist in much smaller institutions. People at smaller institutions must put themselves on the front line every day to fight to maintain the most basic elements of the environment faculty need to research and teach so that students can learn and do so as they sit in offices steps away from the very people that they are challenging because they don’t work at huge campuses with bus lines between themselves and the college or university’s highest ranking administrators. And that work is mentally and physically exhausting and can come with very high personal costs. So when someone who has been doing that work quits, I care.

I care that you quit your job because teachers leaving their positions due to the attacks on the civic goals of our education system by those who would like to turn our public education system into a collection of private corporations designed to produce uncritical workers is something that resonates with the public and the public is who we need to turn all of this around for us. Problems such as the recent employment of a former CEO over academics as president of a major public university and the horrific practice of high-stakes testing in K-12 will only stop when the students and parents demand that they stop. We faculty can’t stop it alone. That’s been made abundantly clear in recent years. So if we are to turn things around, we need more of these stories because they resonate with the public and encourage the public to engage in discussions of all that’s gone terribly wrong in our K-12 and university systems. The majority of the public still cherishes teachers and they care when conditions are so bad that veteran teachers find quitting to be the best option. Thus, contrary to Bogost’s contention that these stories just give others ammunition against faculty, I think that these stories have immense possibility in terms of influencing the public and can invite them to stand up and support teachers at all levels because they allow the public to understand, story by story, what it is we’re losing in U.S. education and, perhaps more importantly, who we’re losing in public education.

Bogost also contends that he’d rather read stories about why we stay in our jobs and I agree that it’s absolutely important that we also tell the stories about why we stay. We should definitely talk about the great things about our jobs, the wonderful students that we meet, and how we change each other’s lives for the better. We should talk about our triumphs and our discoveries and all the ways that we never stop learning. But if anyone thinks that talking just about the good stuff in education, why you stay in your teaching job, is going to sway the public to pick up their pitchforks, take to the streets, and start agitating against the corporatization of education, you must understand little about how social movements form and what sustains them. And if you think I’m wrong about that, please supply me with the long list of memorable and successful social movements that formed to shake up the system because people were pleased with the status quo.

So please, keep talking about why you quit your teaching job. I want to know. And if we want to encourage the public to begin taking a stand against high-stakes testing in place of teaching, the exploitation of adjunct faculty, the politicization of the role of the university, and all of the other issues threatening to undermine what many of us believe is the best system of higher education in the world, citizens needs to know, too. And they won’t know unless you you tell us why.