A Veteran Teacher Quits Under A Weary Load — And He's Just One Of Many

Sep 3, 2016
Originally published on September 3, 2016 5:45 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Rick Young won't return to teaching this fall after 25 years of being at the same high school in Colorado. In fact, every year, the teaching profession loses about 20 percent of the teachers who are experienced but not quite old enough to retire, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. From Colorado Public Radio, Jenny Brundin has more.

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Rick Young has always been fiercely devoted to teaching and to the school where he spent his entire professional life.

RICK YOUNG: This became my home.

BRUNDIN: That home is Daniel C Oakes. It's a small public high school south of Denver for students who've been failing in a traditional school. For many, this is their last chance and for some, their first success. Young says he adored working with the kids.

YOUNG: I will definitely miss the interaction with the kids. And the relationships that you can form are just so meaningful, so rich.

BRUNDIN: Young relished working his students hard. He says he worked into the night, giving them detailed feedback on their research papers, constantly searching for new materials, customizing each lesson to his students.

RYAN HOSTETLER: He really did make a difference in people's lives.

BRUNDIN: That's Ryan Hostetler. He wasn't expected to finish high school. But after being a student of Young's, Hostetler decided to become a teacher, too, here at DC Oakes.

HOSTETLER: He's the most effective writing teacher I have ever had the experience of being taught by. And that includes literature writing classes at the graduate level.

BRUNDIN: So why would Young, a 58-year-old teacher, leave something he's obviously so passionate about?

YOUNG: It's become a lot harder to teach and especially to teach in a way that I personally think is meaningful for my students.

BRUNDIN: Young is talking about a national trend in teaching to more clearly document and measure what's taught. He says this means filling out endless paperwork, as he now must plan his lessons in a more systematic and precise way.

YOUNG: I've got to make sure my lesson is, you know, written in the form of a backward design.

BRUNDIN: That's a three-stage stage process. First he documents, what are his desired results? Then how will he assess his students? Finally, he must explain how he will provide learning experiences and opportunities for practice and application.

BRUNDIN: Then he must show that...

YOUNG: I'm aiming to hit a world-class outcome.

BRUNDIN: Those are defined. Then...

YOUNG: I've got to make sure that the lesson or unit touches on a 21st-century scale.

BRUNDIN: That could be civic responsibility or systems thinking. Then he must make sure the lesson...

YOUNG: Hits the four C's - communication, creativity, collaboration and - what am I missing here? - critical thinking.

BRUNDIN: Young says sometimes, he'd have to squeeze and stretch as he fills out these boxes just to make sure he's still actually teaching history. The district says such methodical planning means the highest-quality classrooms.

It helps teachers better structure lessons and choose activities that push kids to think at a higher level. Young says this was soul-sucking. And survey after survey show teachers across the country feel the same way.

YOUNG: That's my world religions course handouts.

BRUNDIN: As Young cleaned out his room for the last time, he took a moment to flip through a book of memories teachers and students gave him. Kids wrote messages.

YOUNG: Thank you, Mr. Young. I'm grateful for all the eggs of knowledge you cracked over my head.

BRUNDIN: One former student writes what he's most grateful for is Young's unsurpassed ability to create a safe space that allowed students to learn and dialogue with grace and respect.

YOUNG: With grace and respect. I'm tearing up now.

BRUNDIN: Another writes, we students from Oakes didn't quite fit the mold. But you took us in and treated us as if we were your most prized possessions. It helped us want to become more. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.