In one of those weird, fortuitous reading coincidences, I read the following articles back to back:
They got me thinking: When do we (teachers) quit? This question has two meanings: (1) When do we quit the profession, and (2) When do we "quit" students?
I remember as I was finishing up my teacher preparation program, one of the instructors said, "When you're done, you'll know it. Don't stay just to stay." I think her point was that when you are "done" with teaching (i.e., you are burned out), you are not doing anyone any favors by staying. You are making matters worse for yourself, your students, and your colleagues.
As I am on leave from classroom teacher to pursue my Ph.D. in English Education full-time, I wonder if I "quit" teaching. I certainly wasn't done with the profession (although schools and school systems is another story), but I felt that I needed an intellectual challenge that classroom teaching just wasn't providing. I'm much happier and fulfilled being a student again and my work has me thinking about classroom practice regularly and I will be doing my research in classrooms. But, did I quit?
This is related to the second meaning of the question: When do we make the decision that we've done all we can with a particular student and the situation is out of our hands? I remember the last time I was challenged by this several years ago. I had an advisee who was a genuinely nice kid. He started off the year strong and unafraid of asking for help (thank goodness, as he was grade levels behind). A teenage boy openly asking for the teacher's help on something academic was not common in many of the classrooms I taught it, so I was thrilled he was so gung-ho.
That stopped though when his chronic absentee problem came back to life. When I called home to his mother, she seemed concerned but resigned to the fact that she had no control over him. I remember one exchange where she said that he was bigger than her and she couldn't make him do anything. I replied, "Well, he's not bigger than me. I can come over if you want." She didn't take that well and it was clear that she was using his size advantage as an excuse. I don't think she cared.
That didn't stop me. I went to the guidance counselor who called his probation officer (oh ... didn't know about that) and I was filled in on the long-standing problems that had been plaguing this student. It was clear quickly that his problems were bigger than me. But, I still didn't give up (plucky, ain't I?), but to no avail. Several months later, I did give up. The problem was so much bigger than me. Every time he did show up I showed him I was happy that he was there and I was ready to help him. The next day (or, frankly, on several occasions later that morning) he was missing again. Everyone - the principal, AP, guidance counselor, ACS, parole officer, mother, brother, aunt, uncle - had been informed, yet somehow he never got better.
It was a sad situation, for sure, and the decision to "quit" him was difficult. I don't like to say "quit" because I never stop believing that a student can do it, but sometimes we just have to prioritize.