HARRISONBURG — A former Harrisonburg teacher took to social media recently to explain why she left the profession and it has gone viral.
Jessica Gentry was a kindergarten teacher at Stone Spring Elementary School until recently. She starts off her post by saying that her reasons for leaving are more complicated than “lousy pay.” She then outlines five areas that led to her decision.
The Daily News-Record reached out to Gentry for additional information, but the request was not answered as of press time.
The first assumption that Gentry addresses is that the kids have changed and that’s why teachers are leaving. She said it’s not the kids, but that it’s parenting and society that has changed.
“Parents are working crazy hours, consumed by their devices, leaving kids in unstable parenting/co-parenting situations, terrible media influences,” Gentry said in her post.
She argued that the reason kids are lashing out in school is because kids behave poorly in environments where they feel safest. They use the safety of the classroom to test the waters of behavioral limits.
Gentry criticized the overuse of technology in the classroom and a focus on 21st-century learning. She asked why are teachers being forced to abandon the social skills that come with relationship building in favor of technology.
Of course, technology and new initiatives means more training and time away from the classroom, Gentry says in her third point of the post.
“Just this year, a new math assessment was introduced for K teachers,” Gentry wrote. “We had to attend a training on a school day, time missed with students, then it took us three weeks to administer it, one-on-one, to 21 students.”
Circling back to the parents, Gentry said in her fourth point that teachers are forced to adopt a customer service mindset instead of holding parents accountable, especially on points such as attendance.
At the end of the day, Gentry said she was internalizing a lot of the problems she saw in the classroom and, with an alleged lack of support from the school, it began to affect her mental and physical health.
“I finally realized, you can’t save them all,” said said. “You can’t even help 21 if you aren’t healthy yourself. If your mental and physical health aren’t a focus, you aren’t even good for the 21.”
Michael Richards, Harrisonburg’s new superintendent, responded to the furor surrounding Gentry’s post by releasing a statement, saying that a number of issues brought up by Gentry have been on his radar for awhile.
His full statement reads:
“I would take issue with the notion that teachers are leaving the profession ‘as if their hair is on fire.’ Ms. Gentry may have her own reasons for making that assertion.
“Teaching is the noblest profession in the world, and the vast majority of teachers are dedicated to the vital work of empowering the next generation. Teaching is definitely a very challenging profession, and it is not for everyone. It requires longer hours than most people believe it does, and it presents multifaceted challenges that blend social and intellectual skills.
“Some of Ms. Gentry’s concerns are entirely valid. For instance, it is imperative that we provide teachers with adequate planning and collaboration time and that we do not pull them away from instructional time. It is imperative that we help students develop strong social skills, especially as society turns increasingly toward device-driven communication.
“At the same time, we need to empower students to use technology to enrich their learning and develop real-world skills. It is important that we support teachers in developing productive partnerships with parents.
“Many of Ms. Gentry’s concerns have been squarely on my radar for some time. I have plans to address these and other concerns here in Harrisonburg, where I started as superintendent a little over a month ago.
“Too often teachers feel that no one really understands their concerns and that solutions are imposed on them. I plan to partner with teachers so that I am aware of their concerns and they have a voice in the solutions.”