The Days I Quit

“I wanted to quit yesterday,” a coach confided in me.
“I saw such awful treatment of children. I wanted to tell the teacher she was no longer needed and I would take it from there. I could quit my coaching job and give those twenty-six students a year they deserved.”
I nodded solemnly.
“Isn’t it awful that I thought that?”
“No,” I said. “No. Not at all.”

I have had many days that I’ve decided to quit in the course of this job. And it’s not for the reasons you may think. Yes, I get bogged down by the negativity. It’s difficult to be ever-the-professional in the face of individuals and teams who seek first to assume the worst, not to understand. The work with adults is extremely hard, but seeing students wither in their classrooms is much, much worse.

“Just the transition, Heather, from recess to math took 20 minutes. And the teacher spent most of the time scolding kids, berating them saying ‘You are causing the problem,'” The coach continued.
“They are just little kids!”

Until you become a coach you may not have experienced a classroom like this in real time. We tend to live in our classroom bubbles thinking that educators experience the world much like we do. Thankfully classrooms where kids aren’t nurtured are rare, but likely in the course of our careers we will encounter work in a troubling environment. I’ve come to the difficult realization that underestimated students live up to those teachers’ expectations. “Slow” kids take on learned helplessness. “Bad” kids continue to seek negative attention. Teachers who say, “I’ve tried everything. There is nothing that works,” are correct.

“I have to go back next week,” lamented the coach.
“What am I going to do?”

There is something freeing about the ability to let myself quit for an hour–or four. I imagine myself back in the classroom doing what I know how to do. Visualizing how I’d set up my classroom library, create my writing center and the way we’d start building community from the moment students walk through the door is good therapy. I remind myself that I can go back at any time. And then I think about my motto, “Stay curious” and my belief, “Every teacher deserves a coach” and I wonder how to make sense of it all. “You can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached” is also true. So what can we do?

I didn’t have anything wise or inspiring to say to the coach. I simply said, “You aren’t alone with those feelings. It seems to come along with this work. Explore the feeling of wanting to quit and see what else comes up.”

I find if I give myself time, strenuous exercise, people who listen and dark chocolate, the obstacle in front of me slowing transforms into my opportunity to be a professional. To use integrity, questioning, patience, content knowledge and my understanding of children to move forward. It’s OK to mentally left yourself quit and then come back to the place of “What if…”

14 thoughts on “The Days I Quit

  1. How do you manage to write the posts I need AT THAT EXACT MOMENT every week? I wish you could come coach me on how to be a good coach. This is missing for me, and I crave that kind of professional development, just as I sought out PD as a teacher.

    • Mindi, I’m glad to know we are reading each other’s minds without even knowing it. This post was harder to press ‘publish’ on, but it was exactly what I needed to say today.

  2. A very challenging situation! another question….how would you help that classroom teacher see that it’s his or her behavior, not the kids’ behavior, that is the root of the problem? What coaching moves might give the most bang for the buck and help those students in the short, and long term?

    • Roseann, It’s a tough question to answer outside of more context, but I’ll do my best. In this situation I have started with empathy during a debrief with the teacher. “It seemed like you were very frustrated with that transition. Is that a typical experience for you?” Then I would hear–really listen to her response. I might say, “Knowing that all we can change in our classrooms is our own behavior and our environment, what are some things you are open to trying to make those transitions go smoother?” The teacher might say, “I’d do anything to make this less painful,” or may say something like, “I’m going to start taking away their recess time.” If it’s the latter I would nudge again and say, “Studies have shown that when we have at least 4:1 (positive interactions to corrections) with students, we create an optimal learning environment. Outside of taking away recess time, what are some other options?” If she was unsure I’d say, “Would you be interested in hearing about some things I’ve seen be effective?” And then we’d go from there. I would partner with the teacher in her classroom to set up small goals that would move us forward in the short term as early as the next day. In the long term there are going to need to be many other things in place from a supportive administrator to access to management professional development to ongoing support of teammates and coaches.

  3. Great post! Your answers to the questions are full of wisdom as well! Thanks, Coach! There aren’t many out there who understand the challenges of this job.

  4. As a coach of coaches, I have seen a few of them go back to the classroom for the reasons you described in your post. I try to get them to see that as a classroom teachers they could facilitate a wonderful year of learning for 25 students, but that teacher, and others like her will still be there.

  5. Two words that have been resonating with me lately are “courage” and “truth.” I’d like to thank you, Heather, and your colleague for demonstrating both. Such a good reminder that we can’t ever give up on the students we work with.

  6. Thank you so much for this very insightful post. I have had these same experiences and feelings often, and it is nice to know that I’m not alone. Your advice really hit home for me. Thank you for coaching the coach!

    • You are so very welcome, Kerry. I know we go through similar things so it’s nice to have a forum to share with each other.

  7. I too echo all of the comments to your post. I am in my second position as a coach, having returned to the classroom for two years. While back in the classroom, I longed to have the collaborative relationships I had developed as a coach. Now I find myself longing for the relationships I had with my students, just like the last time I coached. It seems like when things are tough with the adults, you want “your own kids” back, but when things are good with the adults, you love the coaching work!

    Thank you for sharing this post! I feel less alone!

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