I’m Not Qualified

I have taught high school English in the public schools for twenty years in three states, including two red states and a deep blue state.  I have taught mainstream English, honors English, and remedial English.  I’ve worked in alternative schools, high-poverty schools, large high schools serving mostly English learners, and predominantly white, middle-class schools.  

Last month I let my teaching license expire.  For the first time since 1998, I am no longer qualified to be a teacher in my home state of Kansas.  When I consider the public education landscape not only in the Midwest, but across the country, it is with sadness that I think, “Not qualified to teach secondary English anymore? You’re right.”

I’m not qualified to deliver counseling services to the legions of broken, fatherless, emotionally stunted students who walk through our classroom doors every day.  I’m not qualified to engage in behavior modification with dysregulated, angry kids who exhibit no impulse control, zero empathy for others.  Students have talked about killing me, threatened to hit me in the face.  Upon writing up these incidents, I have been blamed, told I need to work on “building relationships” with students, or offered more training on working with students dealing with trauma and abuse.  Administrators pass off these students’ comments with, “Oh, he didn’t mean it... “ “I talked to him... “ or “Think about what may have occurred in your class that provoked this behavior.” There are minimal consequences for students who verbally and physically assault teachers.  It’s open season on public school staff.  I am not alone.

I’m not qualified to instruct near-adults in the basics of third-grade reading, grammar, and spelling skills.  It's become increasingly impossible to teach high-school level literature, let alone the classics.  I used to be able to hand a seventeen-year-old Anna Karenina, Lord of the Flies, The Good Earth, or a Shakespearean play not read in class, and the student could read and understand it.  Today, nearly half of students cannot read at grade level.  Efforts to teach literature have devolved into my reading most of the book aloud in class should I wish to foster a class discussion around a complex piece of fiction or any long-form text that requires reflection, analysis, and the ability to hold multiple plot structures in one’s mind.  Rather than uphold standards for even the most basic high school English courses, administrators ask that I “modify” my curriculum and provide a veritable three-dimensional chess game of “accommodations” for students so that they can achieve a passing grade in my class without having moved the needle on their literacy skills one bit. If I wanted to teach elementary-level skills, I would have become an elementary-school teacher.  

I’m not qualified to compete with cell phones, vacuous TikTok videos, never-ending rabbit holes of YouTube videos and games that deliver cheap dopamine hits to students’ starved psyches and groom their self-doubt, self-loathing, and ever-shortened attention spans.  I am not qualified to teach delayed gratification to cohorts of students raised on cheap technological fare consisting of constantly flickering videos, short sound bites, and mere snippets of cogent English sentences.  

I’ve opted out of the sleepless nights, the weapons-grade emotional exhaustion, the constant second guessing of myself and every assignment I create, teach, and grade.  I’ve opted out of the blame from parents, administration, and entitled students.  I am done feeling that I never work hard enough, that I can never sacrifice enough of my weekends, evenings, and holidays to remediate students, teach them some semblance of grade-level work, and serve as a family therapist, social-emotional services director, or anger-management group leader.  I’ve opted out of tiptoeing around the subtle political indoctrination that’s increasingly present in the approved curriculum and with which I do not agree.  I’ve opted out of feeling that my biggest crime teaching English in the public schools is that I actually teach English in the public schools. 

I’m a simple English teacher.  I’m not the best teacher out there, but I’m not the worst.  I care that my students are literate, thoughtful, and that they leave my class prepared for college-level work.  Or that they at least possess the work ethic and resilience to enter this brave new world we’ve created for them.  I’ve tried not to give up on this career into which I’ve invested money, emotion, my free time, the bulk of my youth, really. I look back on the years when I had fun creating and teaching challenging curriculum with a sense of autonomy and support from most parents and administrators as a wind at my back.  Those days are long gone.  The schoolhouse of twenty years ago is not today’s schoolhouse.  

Kansas State Department of Education, you’re right: when it comes to teaching in what passes for today’s public classroom, I’m no longer qualified.  

Amie Adamson is a child of God, hiker, ultrarunner, friend, daughter, sister, and recovering public school teacher.  She lives in southeast Kansas, where she enjoys greeting the sunrise each morning while out running the dirt roads around her hometown.  She is the author of the book Walking Out: One Teacher’s Reflections on Walking Out of the Classroom to Walk America, which can be found on Amazon.  She hopes to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this spring, where she plans to write more about her backpacking -- and probably teaching -- experiences and ponder what career steps to take next.

Image: Arthur T. LaBar


If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com