Overwhelmed New Orleans Teacher Quits
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Here's another voice you've heard before. Last spring we aired a story about people who moved in New Orleans to teach in public schools. Matt Roberts was one of them. What we didn't know was just how badly things were going in Matt's classroom. He left the school and he sent us this commentary about feeling like a quitter when he sounded like a hero on MORNING EDITION.
Mr. MATT ROBERTS (University of New Orleans): When the story aired, the phone calls started. A friend who develops school enrichment programs heard it while he was rebuilding a stranger's house in the Ninth Ward. Another friend, working towards a Ph.D. in music, told me hearing that story reminds me why I'm doing this. But now I'm just another teacher who turned his back on a classroom full of children in a poor district.
Two days before the story ran, I became the fifth teacher to leave that school since it opened in March. My principal tried to convince me to stay. But in the end she told me not to consider my leaving a failure.
That only made me feel like more of a failure. I taught the kids in my classroom the lesson they most desperately need not to learn - that it's okay to quit.
I could blame the lack of discipline in the school or the color of my skin. When I told one student to sit down, he said, I ain't going to shine your shoes.
I could blame the fact that I've been profoundly unhappy since we moved back to New Orleans. Coming home, it started to seem like a grave mistake. My five-year-old daughter misses her friends. My son's preschool is concerned about his anger issues. We had a new Superdome for the Saints games and a clean French Quarter for Mardi Gras. But many of our public schools remained unrenovated and unrebuilt after Katrina.
Of course, these are all excuses. I know this. I tell myself I stepped aside so some learning might take place in the classroom with another teacher. Then, driving past the street corner, I see one of my former students. I know he should be in school and I get angry. I know he'll wander from classroom to classroom, carrying a tiny slip of white paper with yet another checkmark beside the word unexcused.
And that's all that will happen because where else is this child going to go? I'm angry, but not really at my student, who doesn't care about his future, or at his parents, who didn't teach him the difference between right and wrong, or at the school administration that won't hold him accountable. I'm not even angry at myself for failing to be a better teacher. I'm just plain angry, because if there is one thing those of us living here in Katrina-land are sick of, it's excuses.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: Matt Roberts is now an instructor at the University of New Orleans.
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