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Voices: Why I quit teaching in Dougco

Former Douglas County high school teacher Chris McCallum pens an open letter to district leaders about why he left Dougco – and why he believes others are leaving as well.

Dear Douglas County school board and district administrators:

As a former employee of Douglas County School District, I thought you might like to know my thoughts about the departure from your organization. Usually, I try to be complimentary and deliberate with any exit comments to leave an open door and reciprocity in future endeavors.

In this case, sadly, I know I will never work for your organization or recommend your organization to any parents, teachers or colleagues as long as your current structure is standing.

Since Brian Cesare, Dougco’s human resources chief, dragged my name through the mud by stating in a recent Denver Post article about an increased number of teachers leaving, “It’s an accountability thing and some people don’t like that,” I felt compelled to sling it back.

When I left your organization, I never had an exit interview to really tell you my feelings or how difficult it was to leave the kids I worked so tirelessly to educate. I never got the chance to tell you how outraged I was that the leaders of this organization made me choose between my family and my passion for teaching. I was never given the opportunity to give my suggestions about what would make a better school setting or what teachers could do to reach across the table and help change the tumultuous environment.

I was not afforded the chance to prove a teacher’s worth because the leaders in charge never once came into my classroom to evaluate me or my teaching prowess. I would attest that most of the teachers in this district would welcome any of you shadowing them for a full day to see how incredible they are at their profession. Brian, I would have LOVED the chance to prove myself to you and others. I never got an opportunity to receive a raise nor was I given a choice about my salary or my healthcare or my work hours.

Despite all of this, I still thought about staying and teaching because you are last on my list of people I taught or fought for in this job. When I told those students I was leaving because my leaders did not value my work, did not value my family and made selfish choices based on trying to be at the forefront of education reform, it almost broke my heart. To this day, I still connect with those kids through any means possible, support their sports and I know you could never break that bond.

You really think that the small group of 300 teachers leaving the district is an anomaly? When I told the staff at my school I was leaving, here are their exact responses:

  1. Really? Wow, we will miss you and your enthusiasm.
  2. I understand completely why you are leaving.
  3. How did you get the job in this other field? Are they hiring any more people?

Literally, 90 percent of the people I talked to reacted in this way. This was in the middle of October, not at the end of the school year. Your teachers are not happy and if they have better options and choices and are strong enough to move, they will move.

I implore you to go back and look at every one of the teachers who left and examine their abilities. I imagine you lost 250 to 280 great teachers because they did not want to go down with a sinking ship and made the jump early.

As I conclude slinging it back, I want you to know that when people are pushed to their limit, some of the best people push back and leave. There will be many more teachers in the upcoming years who decide to take this road and I will only applaud them as they walk out your doors.

I am one of the 300 who left because I know my worth, my value and I would not stand for the hypocrisy any further.

Thanks for reading my final exit interview.

Chris McCallum
Mountain Vista High School Teacher 2007-2012

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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