The number of teachers who have left their jobs this year has gone up by more than thirty percent in Houston, KHOU.com reports. According to the data released by the Houston Independent School District, at least 300 faculty members have quit so far — an increase of 66 over the same period last year.
Those leaving could probably relate to the sentiment expressed by a Jacob Santillan – a veteran of the U.S. Army – in a resignation letter that has been making the news all over Houston. In it, Santillan described the conditions as untenable, and said that he preferred going back into combat to ever teaching in a public school classroom again.
After spending only a single semester teaching in a HISD middle school, Santillan has had enough. And he believes that there are a growing number of teachers who feel exactly as he does – warning district heads that unless things change, they would continue to lose teachers Houston desperately needs.
In my 30 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, the local union.
“Just quit. Not retired, not fired, quit,” Fallon said.
So, the question is why?
“One of them told us ‘I’m not going back to a place I dread,’” Fallon said. Teachers’ e-mails and phone calls to their office complain of “bullying” and “intimidation” by principals.
HFT Grievance Officer Joanna Pasternak echoed Fallon, saying that people who have been contacting her have complained about being mistreated and losing the joy that teaching used to bring them.
HISD Spokesman Jason Spencer isn’t convinced, however. Far from believing that the district is losing its best and brightest, Spencer thinks that the high attrition numbers prove that the move by the district to put a “tighter leash” on its teachers is working. A higher number of quitters is a natural consequence of holding them accountable for the job they do, he points out.
HISD recently launched a new teacher appraisal system, claiming to put a tighter leash on poor performing teachers.
“Principals and assistant principals are having tough conversations with teachers who are not making the progress parents expect them to make, and those conversations are not comfortable,” Spencer said.
According to the union, “not comfortable” is an understatement. Union says that the system is unfair, subjective and needlessly punitive – straying far from the performance criteria adopted by the State of Texas and used in districts outside Houston.
If length of tenure correlates with quality of instruction, then it appears that the new evaluation system is driving away more than just under-achievers. A full quarter of teachers who have resigned have been on the job for a decade or more.