NOTE: Below is a real letter of resignation, specific details redacted in order to protect the teacher. The teacher was early career, and this represents the state of the field of teaching in SC and across the US.
Please accept this document as notification of my resignation, effective June 6, 2022.
While I have appreciated my tenure as a teacher in [district], I feel it’s in my best interests and also my moral responsibility to reject any further offers of employment from [district]. I have been disappointed by several of my interactions with administration, both in [school] and at the district office. I pride myself in advocating for the teaching profession and for the needs of teachers, because I understand the essential democratic importance of education. It has been difficult to feel alone in that work of advocacy, and worse to have to justify myself, and I feel compelled to move into a profession that is better positioned to hear the concerns of its professionals and react meaningfully.
I was especially and painfully disappointed by [district]’s reaction to the fearmongering of South Carolina’s governor over the presence of Black and queer narratives in our libraries and curricula. [District]’s response, to call the texts “pornography” and then to remove them from all choice spaces, was wrong. Not only was it a breach of trust between the district and already vulnerable teachers, and not only did it add a significant amount to the (already impossible) teacher workload, but it will effectively end reading all but canonized texts, as those are the only texts that it is likely three teachers would have read and can approve per the new district guidelines for selection of texts. The district’s choices will serve primarily to keep students from reading and certainly to keep students from reading texts that they would enjoy; the policies the district has created are antithetical to our supposed goals of creating life-long, enthusiastic readers.
I also know that much of the concern over texts driving the changes in [district] is cloaked in a veneer of concern about “obscenities.” I think it’s important to challenge that concern and call it out for what it is: bigotry. No one is concerned about the suggestive material in Shakespeare, or Fitzgerald, or Steinbeck. We seem to be deeply concerned, however, when the authors are a part of or are speaking to a marginalized community. Providing texts that acknowledge the realities of our students along all axes of identity is best practice, but we are only allowed, effectively, to provide best practice opportunities for students whose identities fit an Evangelical agenda. Where is this concern when we force Black students to read racial slurs in To Kill a Mockingbird, or Huckleberry Finn, or The Great Gatsby? We do not censor these books because we recognize that while they contain sensitive and disturbing material, they have something of value to offer our students. We seem incapable of seeing that same value in works who empathize with marginalized people, and insistent on reading that empathy as an attack on traditional values.
[District]’s selective censorship is a failure to support significant portions of our community who already experience systemic inequities; we compound the damage already done to our marginalized students by not allowing them to see themselves in books, which then further erodes the trust that our communities place in us to make every child in our care feel seen and understood. I would ask anyone in the district who is in a position to advocate for teachers at the state level to read the National Council of Teachers of English’s (NCTE) position on censorship of texts. NCTE has multiple position statements affirming students’ right to read, and have expressly condemned the very types of censorship policies [district] is now implementing, as has every other national professional organization for teachers.
When teachers challenged this censorship and the removal of a district-approved book list in a faculty meeting and pointed out that most of the works students read in class contain “obscenities,” the response, that “Shakespeare was okay because most students don’t understand the language” deeply disturbed me, because my job, of course, is to help students understand the language. Our job as teachers and English teachers specifically is to clarify; to give students the ability to see more clearly and critically the world around them. When a minority of the community screams loudly enough that they do not want students to see, do not want students to learn, do not want students to have access to reality, entertaining their concerns and appeasing them is not harmless; it does violence to students whose humanity is now being denied, to teachers and staff members whose identities are among the disparaged, and to every student who loses an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. Even worse, we are not just removing these texts from the spaces where students can engage and receive support from a professional in critical conversation (the classroom) but we are removing them from all spaces, even choice spaces such as the library. Students deserve to see themselves in the texts around them, and to have their identities treated with care and seriousness, not as problems to be ignored or wished away.
As a final note on [districts]’s political censorship: many of the texts that have been challenged are taught in courses that are meant to replace college level courses, such as Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate courses. Teachers have an obligation to provide the same level of complexity and rigor in their classrooms that those students would receive if they were in college, as the course is for college credit. The idea that students from our district will receive expurgated versions of collegiate education to appease a small subset of parents and community members should anger everyone, because all of us have to live in and with the ramifications of a community where the citizens are losing access to quality education.
The current climate of teaching in [district] is a microcosm of the state of our profession in South Carolina, and it has made my job, especially over the last two years, infinitely more challenging and stressful. The work of teaching is vital, and I sincerely hope that the administration of [district] is willing to do better in the work of advocating to protect the professional integrity of their employees than they have shown themselves willing to do previously. In particular, the wave of bills and policies currently under review at the state level, such as the affirmation of our existing no promo homo laws and the new parental trigger laws, will succeed only in creating a climate of fear and censorship in the classroom and in moving the authority of education out of the hands of educators and into the hands of parents. These bills are an existential threat to public education. Because the viability of our democracy is contingent upon having informed and educated citizens, it is not hyperbole to say that these bills are an existential threat to democracy. Students have a right to receive a quality education regardless of, and often in spite of, their parent’s beliefs. Our students deserve better than what [district] and the State of South Carolina are currently willing to provide for them. Teachers also deserve better. Teachers, however, have the choice to leave the profession. A critical examination of the expectations we place on and the miracles we expect of teachers is in order. I will continue to watch this examination with hope and idealism, but I can no longer do it from anywhere but the gallery seats.