Teacher Pauline Hawkins's letter about why she's quitting failed education system goes viral

Categories: Education

More photos below.
Plenty of teachers are leaving their profession these days, but few make as much noise doing so as Pauline Hawkins. On Monday, the staffer at Colorado Springs' Liberty High School posted a resignation letter in which she says her reasons for quitting include negative impact from programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, as well as standardized testing that's causing students to give up on their lives.

Her frustrations are resonating well beyond her hometown.

A banner from Pauline Hawkins's website.
Hawkins hasn't exactly kept her opinions to herself up until this point. She publishes a blog entitled Education Reformation, and her personal website, PaulineHawkins.com, features plenty of missives decrying the current system.

For instance, her March 12 post previews a protest about standardized testing at the State Capitol that's festooned with photos like this one:

Still, Monday's item, simply entitled "My Resignation Letter," has struck the loudest chord to date. In the missive, addressed to "Administrators, Superintendent, et. al.," she says she's leaving Liberty for personal reasons; she's a newly single mom whose beloved son has been fighting cancer and the pay teachers receive simply isn't enough. But in addition to the issue of salary, she writes that "ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children."

The entire letter is accessible here -- but this excerpt gives a good sense of her argument:

A photo of Hawkins from her Facebook page.
I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.

It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago -- and it's only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.

I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they've been told they aren't good enough by a standardized test; they've been told that they can't be successful because they aren't jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.

The letter made an immediate impact. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, it received more than 9,000 hits in two days and generated oodles of comments. Many of them are from past Hawkins students thanking her for the part she played in their lives. But others focus mainly on her dire assessment of public education in America.

Another photo of Hawkins and her son from her Facebook page.
Here are a three examples:
I've lost hope in a system that allows politicians who have never set foot in a classroom to make decisions about education and reform (a la House of Cards, anyone?) I don't want to be party to a system that breaks kids down and tells them that they're not good enough. I don't want to be the teacher proctoring a test with third graders and being the person to tell them that I can't help them with content knowledge and analysis questions above their comprehension levels when I'm /supposed/ to be the one to do that. I'm so sad to see that our system has done this. I'm so sad that kids are being taught how to take tests but not how to think and problem solve for themselves. I'm so sad to see wonderful educators like yourself leaving the field because of it and because America, and especially Colorado, don't value their teachers....

Although I may not know you personally I share many of the same views as you do about our current education system. The thought that my kids might have to be taught at a private school to be surrounded by kids who have the same desire to learn is unacceptable. I fear for our country as we freeze teacher salaries and think teachers cause our children to fail. Parents are missing the opportunity to teach our youth to have self respect and responsibility in school and life....

Please Pauline Hawkins, share your beautiful letter but tragic story with the Google discussion group Education Revolution. I sincerely hope you can find employment as a teacher but not in North Carolina...you have already had enough pain in your life.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Education archive circa June 2013: "CU diversity survey: Does university live up to its goals?"

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This is a sentence taken directly from Pauline Hawkins' letter of resignation.

“As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.

The letter decries government support for education and bashes “no child left behind”, “race to the top” and “common core” and anything else that smacks of government. The quoted paragraph reveals one thing above all else; no one wants to pay taxes; however, the letter is filled with damning efforts being made by well meaning people in the government to improve things within the constraints of “no more taxes”. Can anyone out there believe that government educators designed these programs with evil intent, or fabricated them to make things worse? They are good programs that only need “us” to shape and mold—the parents and educators—into what they should be in the greatest nation in the world.

This is not just a problem in Colorado but across the entire Nation. The problem really is that people who hate the government are feeding off the discontent of frustrated teachers like Ms. Hawkins. Common core has little meaning in first class school district. There are school districts in the counties, cities, and States where Common Core, though minimal, signifies a great improvement in educational standards—the government response to parental complaints in those districts where schools are not doing their job. The schools are not doing a good job because the Pauline Hawkins in those school districts resigned; she resigned because she cannot live on what she earns as a teacher. A principle reason is the tax payers do not want to get up off their duffs and see what is going on in our schools or vote in school board elections.

The motive of critics is becoming more and more to privatize education for a number of reasons. The first among them is that parents want the best for their “own” children but paradoxically do not want to spend time or money toward that end for anyone else’s children and all together to often even for their own children! Recently, first reason the reasons has shifted to making money; the school doors of impoverished public schools are open to everyone but no one wants to go there because the Pauline Hawkins’s in our nation no longer teach there; because the classes are large; the roof leaks; and the teachers are not paid for what they do. Private schools can close the door to whomever they please; teachers can and do fail students they believe do not believe in God, or believe climate change is real and other nonsense.

Wake up! Stop blaming the government, the unions, the buses, and anything else that comes to mind. Be willing to pay taxes, be willing to work with the students and the community but most important demand that your school district respond to teachers and school needs. 

fishingblues topcommenter

This lady sounds bitter, as many ex-employees are.  Blaming the failure to educate children on NCLB is ludicrous.  The schools were failing long before NC came into existence.  What her emotional hysteria amounts to is resistance to accountability.  In her world every kid should be taught that they are the center of the universe and they are wonderful little boys and girls.  Illiteracy doesn't matter.  The real world waiting for them when they leave the school's friendly and supportive confines shouldn't be considered.  Good riddance.    


@fishingblues  you must have had terrible teachers because your writing indicates great insecurity.  The fact you are a top commenter also indicates you have way too much time on your hands.  I

fishingblues topcommenter

@goodteacher @fishingblues  That's pretty funny.  Why doesn't the arm-chair psychologist point out that insecurity my "writing indicates".  

I had far better teachers than you will ever be.  I avoided union controlled government schools and actually got an education.  

Gosh, does "too much time" mean only that I have more free time than you?  I used my education to retire early and quite comfortably.  Therefore, I have just the "right" amount of time on my hands.    

muhutdafuga topcommenter

@fishingblues @muhutdafugaYou're cute when you know you've been owned and have nothing to say, but you say it anyway.  

Keep on having those fantasies about me, I get to laugh at you every time you are wrong.  

If you want to learn "ebonics," might I suggest you first learn sufficient social skills to avoid exposing what an idiotic right wing extremist you are?

Or you could just keep on as you are, spewing stupid crap that makes good Americans laugh at you.  I want to thank you for the many people that you have helped to feel superior after reading your silly little posts.

Or maybe you could learn to stay on topic!  My guess is most people aren't interested in your foolish little fantasies about me. 

fishingblues topcommenter

@muhutdafuga @fishingblues  Golly fatty, is "yappy" more ebonics?  Didn't you get the memo?  Gutter talk (I bet you think gangsta is cool) didn't make it into the English language.

Jazus you are freaking stupid!

Just another pathetic loser who needs a union to survive.  Can't stand on your own can you chub?  

muhutdafuga topcommenter

@fishingblues You are just another radical right winger.  Just another yappy little ankle biter that can't discriminate between truth and their fantasies and their cult propaganda.

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