Why I left teaching

A few years back I had a student who cheated.  This wasn’t one of those “my word against yours” sorts of things.  What happened was that I photocopied the graded tests before passing them back, and when one of the kids turned it back in for a regrade claiming that I’d graded something wrong, I found that he’d changed his answer so that it would look like I’d made a mistake.  This was an open-and-shut case of cheating, complete with irrefutable documentation on my part.

Of course, he claimed that he hadn’t cheated.  When I showed him the evidence of his cheating, he got very quiet.  He asked what he could do and I told him that he’d head up to the honor council and they’d decide what the punishment was.  All by the book.

About a week later, my principal came into my room.  He explained that the kid’s mom was very active in the PTA and that she had the tendency to overreact when it came to her kids.  I pointed out to him that there was no room for misunderstanding, showing him the evidence, and he again explained the situation with the kid’s mom.  Finally, I just asked him if he was telling me to drop the cheating case against the kid and he told me that he did.  And that the case would be dropped irregardless of what I said.

I dropped the case.  And at the end of the school year tendered my resignation.

Before this all happened, I had only very occasionally caught kids cheating in my class.  It was something that was usually handled quietly and was meant to teach the kids a lesson more than it was to punish them.  The typical punishment was a reprimand and a zero on the assignment.  Not that big a deal.

However, once I was pressured into dropping the case, I realized that I couldn’t, in good conscience, hold other kids to the standards that had been ignored when this kid had his case dropped.  I dropped out of the honor council, and when students would be caught cheating I’d tell them to retake the test and not to do it again.

Now, it would be wrong for me to say that this incident of cheating is the only thing that caused me to leave.  In all honesty, my son had finished daycare and was about to start pre-K and I had been thinking for some time about leaving teaching for a time to be a stay-at-home dad while he was in school.  You know, the whole nine yards:  Volunteering at his schools, packing his lunches, doing volunteer work while he’s at school, being at home when he returns and so forth.  I’d be a regular Martha Stuart!

Honestly, I was completely on the fence about whether I should continue teaching or take time off for my son.  However, the feeling that I’d done the wrong thing weighed heavily on me and I decided that this was a good time to take a break from teaching.

If I had to do everything again, I think I’d still leave teaching.  It is so rewarding and enjoyable to spend time with my son that it’s been very worth it.  However, I don’t think the cheating issue would play much of a part.  I think, after much reflection, that it’s better to work within the system to convince people that they’re doing the wrong thing than to bail out when times get tough.  When I go back to teaching in a few years, I’ll remember this and act accordingly.

I miss teaching.  Someday, mark my words, I’ll be back!

2 thoughts on “Why I left teaching

  1. Wow, great story! I feel like that might have happened to me as well. I left the school and started fresh somewhere else. :)

  2. Mr. Guch,

    I used to be one of your students right around the time you finished your High School Honors Chemistry teaching. I can verify this over an e-mail privately shared to you with an assignment I have on my computer. But I hope for the purposes of this comment, you’ll take my word for it. And this will be a long one, so I apologize, but I promise this is something that is worth whatever time you can set aside for it.

    I have revisited this blog for the very first time in over five years. This year, I moved to England to attend graduate school in one of the top universities in the world. Right off the bat, I can safely say that if it weren’t for teachers like you that believed in students learning from their mistakes, I would have definitely been in a harder place in my life (certainly not a place with Nobel Prize winning economists and researchers…).

    I was once the student that turned in such a bad lab report, that you (rightfully) brought it to the attention of the class to highlight just how bad and neglectful the quality of the work was. And you said it to me right after class: “You shouldn’t be turning in work like that. You have shown me when you’re working in labs here in class that you’re a quick learner and a smart student. I don’t do this to make fun of you or to stoop you down to a level that you are not. I do this so that you’ll wake up and realize you are the kind of person that should be utilizing your talent to your full advantage, not wasting it. I am here to help you if you really do need help, but right now, you have to go back to giving it your best effort.”

    What I didn’t tell you at that time was that I was a HORRIBLY depressed student at home and in other classes at that time. I was on the brink of failing a number of classes at that time (and possibly dropping out of High School to prepare for an early military path) because I stopped turning in work. Why was I depressed? Because I assumed my deepest fears were becoming reality: that I, in not receiving straight As in my 3 Honors courses and 1 AP course, was going to fail to reach the standards of achievement set by my older sister and my professionally-educated parents as well. I stopped believing I was going to be worth anything in this highly-competitive high school you taught at. I was too afraid to tell my parents that I aimed too high with my class choices (too many Honors and APs), and stalled completely until you, as well as my other teachers, decided to tell me what you REALLY saw in a student like me with no self esteem.

    And all it took were those 5 minutes for you to completely open my mind up to the fact that I’m NOT the worthless piece of sh*t my mind had been telling me right up until then. Yes, it did take far longer than just a school year for me to become the student I was EXPECTED to be, in terms of results and work ethic. But I never forgot the fact that you CARED about students as three-dimensional people, and didn’t want to demonize us only for our mistakes. You wanted to see the SUCCESS outweigh the failure, but you didn’t want to suppress the failures and take the value away from those either.

    I am glad that I was used as your example of “failure” to satisfy expectations in your class. Because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t know the value of success as a student in one of the world’s most respected Professional Degree programs.

    What does this have to do with the blog post? Well, I am writing one of the most intense policy memos of our term here tonight and I wanted to think back to a point in time where I would have never imagined being here in the first place. I wanted to be reminded of the optimism we should have in America’s educational system because of teachers like you. And I say all of this while living in a country undergoing MASSIVE social tensions and educational debates.

    My first reaction, upon reading this entry, was to pretty much cry at the injustice that you faced as a teacher trying to do your job. I am utterly ashamed that a school that prided itself as being a true competitor to some of the nation’s best, let politics and pride get in the way of teaching students how to overcome bad choices and failures. They have lost a teacher that could, through his compassion and dedication to the craft of teaching, have turned that student right around and make him far more appreciative of the value of education.

    But before I make this comment far too long for even the website to accept, I will end by saying this. Thank you, Mr. Guch, for what you taught us to become as your students. We learned Chemistry, of course. But we learned what it means to be ambitious and to take passion in learning about the world around us. And that hasn’t stopped since we were last marked on your attendance program. I hope we can talk again soon in some capacity when I am back home in the States for vacations and what not.


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