Teacher's Epic Resignation Letter: Profession 'No Longer Exists'

Gerald Conti resignation letterAs K-12 education in America has tumbled in global rankings, states have responded: more focus on math and science, more teacher accountability, more testing, and more standardized lesson plans. But one history teacher's resignation letter, posted two weeks ago on Facebook, reads like a last cry from the old guard. The new system, retiring teacher Gerald Conti writes, "seeks only conformity" and "zombie-like adherence." The profession of teaching, Conti says, "no longer exists."

In his letter, which has already been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook (a printout of it is pictured at right), Conti describes the passion that kept him in teaching for 40 years, 27 of them at Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y. He describes his approach of "teaching heavy," based on immersion, intensive research and obsessive attention to detail. He mentions the two signs that hang in his classroom, reading "Words Matter" and "Ideas Matter." "I have truly attempted to live John Dewey's famous quotation," Conti writes, "... that 'Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.'"

Conti, who is the chair of the school's social studies department, then details the changes that have occurred at Westhill in recent years that he claims have made this mission impossible. He calls out the school board for "selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education," a reference to the company that signed a lucrative contract with the New York Department of Education to design tests for its students, and then came under fire last year when its tests were riddled with errors.

More: What Teachers Don't Tell You About Succeeding In The Real World

He rues the rise of "draconian" testing systems, the micro-management of teachers, the standardization of curricula, and the over-emphasis on STEM courses -- science, technology, engineering and math. "Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation," Conti writes, "are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill."

New York requires teachers to work 30 years in the state to be eligible for full retirement benefits, but Conti is leaving three years before that time because "to me, it's not worth it," he told AOL Jobs.

"It's the regimentation... [teaching has become] a matter of bookkeeping more than anything else," he said. "It takes time away from independent work... It takes time away from the students."

"My greatest worry is that children will graduate without curiosity," he continued. "... My concern is that we're not going to have literature in English class. I worry that we're going to have this gray, stark world."

The principal of Westhill High School declined a request for comment.

Lament Strikes A Chord
Dozens of colleagues, parents, and former students have commented on the Facebook post of Conti's letter, thanking him for his decades of service and inspiration, and expressing sadness that so many students will never experience his classroom.

As America has fallen in global educational rankings (to 17th in a recent assessment), schools increasingly have relied on testing and measurable goals. The recent recession renewed criticism that American education doesn't hold teachers to account or properly prepare students for the job market, and in the past few years, cities and states across the country have devised ways to evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students. In his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama emphasized the need to "better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy," and develop more STEM classes.

But these ambitious initiatives leave one question unanswered: is there a place in this new world for a teacher like Mr. Conti?

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I would contend that the problem isn't so much with the students or schools but rather with low parental involvement, low expectations and too much 'self esteem'. It's easy to blame the teachers and schools. Nobody wants to admit they have failed their kids but it's much easier to blame the 'system'.

July 24 2013 at 6:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"...what is not broken..."? Surely he jests. Graduating seniors cannot make change without a computer and even college graduates' resumes contain grammatical and punctuation errors. Of course, he advocates no teacher oversight and wants to rely on his own personal "creativity" in the classroom; testing of students to determine what they have learned might interfere with his pension. Throw out the NEA.

July 24 2013 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alicia & Rique

The problem is that we have too many "professionals", who are not educators dictating how education should be handled. If I can't go into a bank and make changes on daily operations or go into a legal firm and declare that the attorneys are not aiding in the decline of crime (as compared to teachers being blamed for students who have issues that stem from outside of the class), then why should these people determine how I motivate young minds. I had wonderful teachers that were creative and reached students by any means necessary. Now, we are restricted by those who know nothing about what we do or how best to do it.

July 24 2013 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No one has mentioned that kids are coming to school totally unprepared for structure and expectation. This is a parental issue. Parents seem to expect that the educational system should compensate for their failures. (and apparently the judicial systems agrees with them). I teach college students whose general knowledge base appears to be 6th grade or less. They are unable to spell, construct sentences, use proper grammar, comunicate a basic idea, make basic math calculations (e.g. to calculate their own grades given a formula), etc. etc., but they want As. The concept of average (over 66% of us) seems to be beyond their understanding. They spend more time arguing for a single point than they apparently spend studying and learning. This has become increasing noticeable to me over the last 10-12 years. Also being a psychotherapist, I believe resources need to go toward teaching families how to better raise children for the expectations of the real world.- including value for learning, respect for others, the fact that the world does not revolve around them , and understanding of the correlation between effort and results. I work with many conduct disordered children who are in apparent control of their families. Parents feel powerless and helpless, and bring their children to me for "fixing." I don't know what the answer is, there isn't just one, but I wouldn't want to have to figure it out.

July 24 2013 at 10:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dr. Rankin

Here's a question that I have posed to several people in education (including some in prestigious graduate schools of major institutions) and very few have got the right answer. Whenever I saw children in my practice I asked them what their favorite subject was. There was one very common reply. Think outside the box.It's not a subject. What's the answer?
"The subject taught by my favorite teacher." Learning occurs not just in the context of a relationship but in the service of it. Obvious? Sure, but more and more difficult in todays regulated and test result oriented environment. Mr. Conti, than you for your service, insight and bravery.

July 24 2013 at 10:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think Mr. Conti is exactly right. I am 59 years old, and grew up in a small West Tennessee farming town. We had tough teachers who assigned lots of homework. We studied in schools that were more than 100 years old, and no computers, IPads or other gadgets. We actually read books. And we had the finest educational system in the world. I raised three sons in the Knox County, Tennessee school system, and witnessed a serious decline in the quality of teaching during those years. What I saw was an increasing number of petty teachers and petty adminstrators who were only interested in feathering their own nests and getting ahead in the "business" of education. I also defended a school superindendent who was the subject of an ouster suit, and was dumbfounded by the dirty politics in a nearby school system. These folks had completely lost sight of their real job...education. Personally, I think the decline is related to the fact that teaching was once an honorable profession that attracted the best and brightest women, because in many cases, it was the highest job they could expect to get. I completely support equality of the sexes, but it has also meant that the best and brightest go to the highest paying jobs, and the not so bright and dedicated are left to take the teaching jobs. We have to change that environment. If was want a good educational system we must return to giving teachers freedom, we must revert to the tough old days when students actually had homework and read books, and we must pay teachers enough to reflect the great responsibilities of their jobs. As for me, I now have an adopted 8 year old Russian child who will be home schooled for the next year because the system is not meeting his needs.

July 24 2013 at 8:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Also a clarification for a report that says we are 17th in education 1. who are they testing 2. what are they testing 1. we test all students...even those with low iq's, in most other countries in the test the low Iq's have been weeded out before they even have the opportunity to take the test 2. curriculum tested-- how are the questions asked? is it things important to our future? does it tell whether our students love to read so will be lifelong readers and learners? does it test problem solving ability, critical thinking? There are way too many apples and oranges to make a comparison. I think we need to be more worried that our children hate to read, are poor critical thinkers and many things we do not even know until we need them.

June 03 2013 at 12:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Everything he says is true. AND the reason I lost so many promising new teachers within the first year..it used to at least take them 5 years! And as for the comment that the union protects incompetent teachers...I was involved in and knew about at least 12 teachers fired over a 3 year period...helped by the union. In the meantime we did have a problem with incompetent administration...while some outstanding administrators were also ran out of the profession...or retired early. Over the past 10 years I have seen the dumbing down of America...you shouldn't worry about if students are lower in reading or math if they don't read or do math which has happened. Since Reading has taken on regimentation and libraries have closed kids groan when reading time is announced and my own grandson makes horrible comments to me and my husband about reading..it breaks our heart. I have had young nurses not able to think critically and one almost cost me my life. This is serious. It will take the parents and teachers to stand up. Teachers are going to have to go on a massive strike and say enough is enough. Sadly I have watched some unions back these same horrible systems. Believe me we want assessment and excellent teachers and principals but its not the way its been happening.

June 03 2013 at 12:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

There is alot more to education problems that Mr Conti's letter. I see no mention of the teachers union that fights to keep incompetent teachers in the classroom.

June 01 2013 at 6:28 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Veteran American Educator Rips American Education

I have never met Mr. Gerald Conti but I greatly admire him, even if he consciously or unintentionally failed to spill all his guts about what’s truly wrong with education in America.

Mr. Conti believes “Words Matter,” “Ideas Matter” and, like John Dewey, understands that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”

Conti also believes the teaching profession “no longer exists” and that the American public education system has sold out children to a student testing industry rife with flaws. He condemns newly-introduced testing systems, micro-management of teachers, standardization of curricula, and excessive emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses, all of which he feels are stifling ”Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation . . . in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education.”

I mostly admire Gerald Conti–who taught history for 40 years, 27 of them at Syracuse, New York’s Westhill High School and served as chairman of that school’s Social Studies Department–because he had the audacity to put all that and more in his letter of resignation to the Westhill School District’s Board of Education, a resignation tendered 3 years shy of when he could have received full retirement benefits from the New York State Retirement System.

His rationale for retiring sooner than he might have with full benefits? As he said, “to me it’s not worth it,” presumably meaning that enduring 3 more years of what he calls “regimentation” and “bookkeeping” rather than actually teaching wasn’t worth the additional dollars he would have received in his monthly TRS check.

The AOL Jobs article on Conti by Claire Gordon, “Teacher’s Epic Resignation Letter: Profession ‘No Longer Exists,’” references the extremely sorry state of education in America’s public schools especially our current ranking as 17th in the world, far behind Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, the U.K., the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, Poland, Germany, and Belgium.

Ms. Gordon rightly contends that “As America has fallen in global educational rankings . . . schools increasingly have relied on testing and measurable goals” and that “American education doesn’t hold teachers to account or properly prepare students for the job market.” She also points out that even President Barack Hussein Obama recognized the need to “better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy” and to develop more STEM classes. (http://tinyurl.com/bwzeuu8)

Unfortunately, what neither Mr. Gerald Conti in his resignation letter nor Ms. Claire Gordon in her article address is the highly-pertinent issue of why public education in America, which once was the envy of the planet, has taken such a precipitous fall from the world’s educational pinnacle into mediocrity, at best.

Granted, virtually everyone today is riding the “Reform Education” P.C. bandwagon yet few–and certainly no Democrat politicians, including the president–are willing to cite the primary cause of public education’s near-collapse, namely the abject failure of those at the top of the socialistic, multiculturist, extreme liberal-leftist organization, those ultra-lib-leftists who govern the National Education Association. . . (Read more at http://www.genelalor.com/blog1/?p=30952.)

April 21 2013 at 1:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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