Vermont teacher: I can no longer teach

By Charles Laramie

I have been teaching since 1992, and this will be my last year. The reason I am leaving is that I can no longer allow myself to be subjected to the foul language and disrespect I hear in schools on a daily basis. To stay would be to go against everything I believe in.

Students no longer listen to, nor do they respect, the adults who teach them. Nor do they listen to or respect the administrators who are expected to enforce the rules that make the school climate one where students feel safe and free to learn. Today’s students have no reason to fear the consequences that might be imposed by those in a position of authority. This is because there are few if any consequences for their behaviors in school or, it would seem, at home. Students see this on a daily basis.

I have taught in many districts, and I have seen the same behaviors in all of them. I’ve spoken with teachers in many of the other districts throughout Vermont and am told they deal with the same problems on a daily basis. As a teacher, it is not politically correct to acknowledge this or to share this view of education.

I have spoken with students and teachers from Florida, North Carolina, California and Pennsylvania who have shared with me that their public schools are currently dealing with the same problems as well.

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Sadly, this has become a problem that affects not only our society as a whole but the school environment where we are supposed to be educating students for the future.

It is no longer an environment that I wish to tolerate. It’s unhealthy and crushes the spirit. In writing this I am speaking only for myself. Others may not find the current school environment that offensive; perhaps they are younger than I am and do not find the vulgar language and disrespect I see and hear on a daily basis disgusting and demeaning.

Many teachers who are approaching retirement are just trying to hang on long enough to reach full retirement. I can no longer be one of those. Life is too short, time is precious, and no one deserves to be subjected to this.

This is not, nor should it be, a reflection on all students. It is not. There are many students who look toward the adults in the building to enforce the rules and change the school climate to one where they feel safe and look forward to coming to school.

However, the voices of these students cannot be heard over the disruptions caused by the many who do not desire this or who have not been raised to be understanding and respectful of others.

As parents, it is our job to prepare students for school and society. We are our child’s first teacher. From us they should be learning how they are expected to act in school, on the playgrounds, in the hallways and in the classroom.

They should not come to school believing it’s OK to hit, throw things, destroy property or swear at their teachers. Sadly, in today’s school environment this often begins in first grade. If they are doing this in first grade, then it’s their parents who have failed. It’s not politically correct to say that today, either, but it’s the truth.

It’s the parents’ job to begin the reading and writing process before their child gets to school. Parents have a responsibility to themselves, their child and to the society we all share to see to this. It’s what being a parent is all about.

Being a parent is not an easy job; I understand this. I am a parent also. It requires patience, diligence, standing up when necessary and holding them to account when it’s called for. I am not my child’s friend; I am their parent.

Students learn from our examples. As teachers, paraeducators, administrators and coaches, it is our job to guide and model what is acceptable behavior and to be accountable for our actions, as well as to enforce the rules when students break them.

If I used the language students freely use today in the hallways and classrooms of our schools, I would be fired before the day was out and rightly so. And yet students today are rarely if ever spoken to. Today, students really do rule the school.

The student’s handbook in all Vermont public schools states that foul language will not be tolerated. However, it’s more than tolerated; it’s completely overlooked and so common many students do not even realize they are using it. Where do they get the idea that they can use that language with impunity? I don’t know.

However, when adults use that language around them, whether it be their parents, or their coaches, then why wouldn’t these students believe it’s OK to use it anywhere they want to themselves? The school cannot stop parents from using it around their children, but they can stop coaches from doing it. The same should go for anyone else employed by the school who will be teaching students. Coaches are supposed to be building character, teaching ethics, fair play, how to win and how to lose, how to respect each other and their opponents.

When coaches use the same language students are using today in school hallways and classrooms, they have forfeited any right they have to be around these students. In fact, their behavior contributes to the tension and poor learning environment that permeate our public schools today.

I recently communicated with Rebecca Holcombe, Vermont’s secretary of education on this topic. In an article in the Rutland Herald, Ms. Holcombe commented on the low test scores in Vermont and why she felt this was happening. She has decided the state will send out teams to conduct field visits at Vermont schools to get a more complete understanding of how schools are addressing the needs of more vulnerable students.

I emailed Ms. Holcombe and expressed my concern that one of the major problems facing education in Vermont public schools was the school climate and the learning environment. I was surprised to get a quick response. We emailed twice before Ms. Holcombe ended our correspondence by not responding.

Response No. 1: “Dear Mr. Laramie, Thank you for taking the time to write. We actually do take the problem and responsibility for teaching students positive and appropriate social skills very seriously. We are also very concerned with students’ capacity for self-regulation and executive function (regulating their behavior and emotions and managing their learning). I agree with you that when children can’t manage their own behavior and emotions, they not only can’t do well in school and in life beyond, but they also disrupt the learning and success of others.

“Public schools serve all students who come to their doors. Children need to be taught. For some children, these schools are their best and only chance to develop the social skill set that enables them to function in civic life and the work place. I agree this is a critical priority.”

The problem is that students are not asked to manage their behaviors or manage their learning. Many behave exactly how they want or feel at the moment and still expect to be given a passing grade. This does not solve the problem, and in fact only exacerbates and compounds it. It certainly does not help them to function in civic life and the workplace.

Response No. 2: “You are correct that a safe and healthy school has a direct correlation on study achievement, both academically and social/emotionally. I agree strongly with you on this priority. Thank you for reaching out. I have shared your email internally, and we will reflect on how we can better respond to your concerns.” I emailed Ms. Holcombe back a third time, but up until now she has failed to respond. She clearly did not want to consider my suggestions, though I offered to meet with her to discuss them.

She did offer up a couple of suggestions, though it’s my experience they are not based in reality, nor do they have the smallest chance of success. In AA people will tell you the program is easy but hard.

The answers to the problems that face us in Vermont public schools are the same — they are easy but hard. We are the adults. We have to accept the responsibility that we have asked for and do what we know is right, even if it’s not easy.

School handbooks say that foul language will not be tolerated. Do we as teachers and administrators mean that, or is it just for show? If we mean it, and we should, then we should immediately stop tolerating it. This does not mean when we hear it we say “Language” and go on about our business. This means there are consequences for using it — real consequences: suspension, detention, not restorative action. It’s called detention, and it’s meant to detain students for a reason.

Allowing students to use foul and vulgar language without consequence or by simply saying “language,” which is not a consequence, sets the tone for the rest of the school environment. If students realize they can use any language they want with impunity, then other behaviors that were once unacceptable now become acceptable.

Today, behaviors teachers and administrators thought they would never accept have become commonplace; we have become so desensitized and shell-shocked that today any behavior can be overlooked or justified. Substitute teachers I know have shared with me which schools in Rutland County they won’t sub in because they don’t feel safe.

Vermont public schools are at a crossroads. The intolerable behaviors that we see today are driving more and more teachers out of education. Many teachers leave before their first five years. I know others who have left after six, 10 and 12, some in far shorter time than that.

I hope those who read this, especially teachers and taxpayers, take it seriously and begin to demand change and accountability. Please, don’t deride it as just another frustrated, burnt-out, bitter teacher. I have many fond memories of students and colleagues. Students who I am still in touch with and who I probably learned more from than they did from me and colleagues whom I still count as some of the greatest people I have ever met.

Charles Laramie lives in Fair Haven.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ProjectManhattan

34 thoughts on “Vermont teacher: I can no longer teach

  1. Thank you to everyone who replied, especially to you who have taught and understand what it’s like in the classroom on a day to day basis. I have taken many wonderful high school students to the Yale Model United Nations on the Yale Campus. I loved doing this and being with these students and I still hear from them.

    However those students are now in the minority as one writer noted. The crass and vulgar language now coming out of students first grade to twelfth is horrible and the disrespect and behaviors that come with it. Administrators, teachers and parents all have to say we won’t accept this anymore and mean it.

    This is sadly a reflection on our whole society. I was sitting in a restaurant a couple of weeks ago with a friend and a man I would guess 40-45 was sitting with another man and woman and every other word out of his mouth was the F-bomb. The incivility in our society is leading us to become desensitized to all types of behaviors and we are seeing that now from our youth in the schools.

    Thank you all for caring enough to respond.

  2. I’ve been having a terrible time of it too.I’ve worked as a prison guard for 12 years now and the inmates language is getting worse and worse.I have gone out on disability because I could no longer put up with the potty mouths.My wife has suggested I stay on disability until my pension kicks in.People might think that 38 is too young to hang it up but h-e-double hockey sticks if I can get paid for doing whatever I like then why not?

  3. I am retiring shortly and I have been writing a book. It is all about the subject of this letter, but also focuses on the ineptness of today’s teachers.

  4. Amen. This is my last year too. I’ve already told my administrators that I’m DONE. I’m sick of the disrespect from the kids, and even more the apathry of the administration. They want to talk about everything ad nauseum, but there are never any solutions except that teachers should “use their discretion.” What about policy? What about standing your ground? This airy-fairy educational jargon is a load of crap, and the educational system (and the students) will suffer for it. Farewell, education! I’m going to work at doggie-daycare–where the clients are civil.

  5. What a load of hogwash. I graduated High School in 1985 and all the years in high school we had loudmouthed abusive kids that unnerved certain teachers and in other classes those kids were quiet as a mouse. If a student sees you as weak and that you have cracks they will pounce. It has been this way for a good long while. If you really think it is a case on non enforcement DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!! Just my 2cents. I wouldnt be a teacher if you paid me because I could not handle it, but there are things I barely bat an eyelid with in terms of the downsides of my own position in life, its the job….if i cant handle it then it is up to me to make a change of some sort. Yes there are some really challenging kids and a lot of it is their background, but it is part of a teacher’s job to work out strategies to reach the children. If rules are not being enforced then someone has a job to do…the teacher, the school district ….whoever…

  6. I graduated high school in 1970. I saw the beginning of this trend starting even then.
    When we took the 10 commandments, discipline & consequences out of our public school system, we created this mess. The kind of behavior you describe isn’t just in the schools. I see/hear it in public & in the work force. Sadly, your students are the product of their own parent’s degradation.
    My own kids graduated in 1988 & 1990, respectively. They were raised the way my generation was raised. If we got into trouble in school, we had to face the music at home as well. We were also raised to believe in God, respect our elders & authority figures & we didn’t sass our parents. Somewhere along the way, respect & consequences disappeared & here we are.

  7. So, you’re deciding to quit just when you’re at retirement age?
    How convenient!
    This summer I was at a month long with teachers and during lunch one day 4 of us (one of us was a college professor – and a teacher from MA, NH, and NY) were complaining about the stresses of the job. I was agreeing with them but then I said BUT my kids seem to be getting nicer every year. And the others agreed with me. The professor even said – thanks for saying that that’s been my experience.
    This is not to disagree with Mr. Laramie whose grade level is probably different, whose town and state are definitely different. But his experience is not universal. I find the kids a bit less rough around the edges today than 20 years ago.

    • I retired after 46 years this summer. Many students are disrespectful, parents are bullies, administrators are focused on test scores and teacher evaluations. Teachers are expected to do scripted lessons, do tons of meaningless paperwork, do intervention before teaching, work 12 hour or more days, be constantly demeaned, and spend thousands of dollars out of pocket, all the while businesses are getting rich! Our profession has been destroyed.

      • Thankss for your service.

        Yes, many students are disrespectful, and many are better at speaking up now than they were in the past.

        Some parents are bullies, but most – nearly all – are not.

        Administrators can be focused on state or national test scores. I wish those tests would go away and be replaced by 3-4 surveys a year.

        I would stand up and cheer if administrators were focused on evaluating teachers and making them better. That is just the thing, or the thing, that should be focused on. I doubt that is what you are saying.

        I have never done a a scripted lessons.
        Yes there is still meaningless paperwork.
        I doubt most work 12 hour or more days, but we surely work more than our detractors say.
        I hope you are not constantly demeaned. What does that mean? Continually. might be more like it. And sporadically is most accurate in my experiences.
        Although I don’t spend thousands of dollars out of my pocket every year, I used to – enough so I could itemize it – over 2 percent of my income went to class expenses.

        Businesses getting rich is not a bad thing. Those are our former students.

        Our profession has not been destroyed. But it does not sound fun where you teach

  8. I grew up in F.H. and knew your family. I hate political correctness! I have a Granddaughter that teaches kindergarten and some of the things those little kids have done to her at age 5 is disgusting. I thank you for writing all that is going on. The teachers hands are tied. I can only hope your letter can make a difference, I’m sure it won’t in my lifetime. I’m sorry you had to leave your job too. I only hope it will make a difference. Thanks again. Audrey Stiles

    • Thanks Audrey, It’s time. Sorry to hear about your daughter also. But it begins even in pre-school now and I’ve read some of the comments here that are trying to be a little witty with the sarcasm but unless your in a classroom day in and day out you have no understanding of what it’s like trying to teach. I should add I have been teaching the as they say today (Challenging Students) for a long time. I know what I speak of! Thanks again:)

  9. Thank you so much for writing this letter. I have taught in a Virginia school system for over ten years. We experience the exact same thing. We are tolerating unacceptable behavior. Unfortunately, these students graduate to prison. I agree, there are some fantastic students who will go on to achieve great things; but they are becoming the minority. If someone doesn’t take a stand and say “NO MORE!”, our schools will implode. Sending prayers to all educators who hang in there day after day, battling the unacceptable!!

    • I don’t find it unfortunate that these junior hoodlums graduate to prison. I find it absolutely appropriate. If their parents cannot get them in line prior to sending them out into society then they reap what they sow. I graduated from a public high school in the city of Detroit in 1972. My parents cared about our (siblings) behavior long before we ever got to school. Although we were never beaten as children, we were spanked if unruly.I we were at a family get together, say Sunday family dinner and misbehaved, the worst thing we could hear was a whisper saying quite calmly, “wait until I get you home”. Due to the previous spanking or loss of playtime or tv privileges we would most assuredly get in line fast. Society has gone way to far with denying parents the right to spank their children when other means fail. What type of discipline will they recieve in prison? Do we think they will not get more than a spanking? No, don’t consider it unfortunate, consider it what they and their parents deserved. And I didn’t come from a home with a stay at home mom. My father passed away when I was 9. By that time I had many years of manners taught to me by both of them. If the parents don’t care, let the prison system educate them in proper and acceptable behavior.

  10. The saddest thing about these posts is the attempt to make this political. I am a retired teacher and a die-hard progressive. I also find this behavior disgusting, and I did not allow it in my classroom.

  11. Is anyone surprised? No discipline, no structure, don’t dare reprimand, always be nice regardless of the nature of the behavior, bottom line, we’re coddling a bunch of spoiled brats. Take away their texting gismo and their lost. How dare we hold these kids accountable for their behavior??? The chickens have come home to roost!!! I repeat, is anyone surprised???

  12. Charles,

    Thank you so much for having the guts to write this. As a parent of a child who went through VT schools, I totally agree with you. We pulled our son out of the local school system and sent him to St Johnsbury Academy where he was in the advanced classes where the teachers do not tolerate the kind of crap that you and our son had to endure. The state of VT schools is a travesty because of current attitudes and the PC culture. It makes me sick.

    FYI, I am a tax preparer, so if you need any help, let me know.

    • Thanks Steve, I tell people with young children today that if they have young children and are able that home-schooling would be the best thing. As a previous writer mentioned the public schools will implode if this continues as it can only get worse. Thanks

  13. I live in an exceptionally conservative state. We have some of the worst schools in the nation. It isn’t Liberals that create the problem, nor is it Conservatives. Forget the political bias and understand that the training of our youth begins at home. Constant exposure to internet influences have led to a dramatic decline in critical thinking skills, as well as impulse control. Those early influences set a tone. That tone is reinforced when accountability is not enforced in school. Bad language is only a symptom. patents are responsible for setting an acceptable standard of behavior for their children. If a parent speaks of a child’s teachers with less than the highest regard, how can we expect the child to be respectful? Most parents seem to have no issue with expressing thrir opinions in front of their kids, and children learn through example how to conduct themselves. Parents, Granparents and caretakers need to set the bar higher for our future citizens, in order to promote a society we all want to live in. Schools need to enforce their rules with consistency. Children need to understand the consequences of their actions. To provide them with less guidance is an injustice. The world is a harsh place. We need to help them develope the skills it will take to survive.

  14. I completely agree with you Mr. Laramie! I have worked as a server for well over thirty years and have seen this very change in our society. Not only from children. I’ve observed the interaction and lack of discipline of the parent. In addition to this, parents are very quick to hand an electronic device to their child to get them out of their hair rather than including them in an activity or going to the park. Social interaction has diminished greatly! I have questioned my feelings about this issue and how I’ve perceived it but your article has confirmed that my perception is correct. It’s very difficult to tolerate this behavior without saying something. I also have considered giving up what I do but, as the others, I need to keep going until I can retire. Sad to say but this new generation has already learned these negative, disrespectful behaviors from the generation before them and unfortunately will be passed to future generations.

  15. I resent the accusation that misbehaving in class is the result of liberal thought. How about bad parenting? How about national politicians acting like bad children? Why politicize it? Axxholez come in all shades. Why can’t teachers set rules and when those rules are broken send the kid out of the classroom, zero tolerance? Yes let me guess, “oh my little darling would never do that” that’s not liberal or conservative but that’s the problem.

  16. Well folks, you voted for this Progressive hell. It won’t stop until you vote out the clowns in Montpelier, chuck the bozos on the school boards out and vote in your neighbors and yourselves. Then you will have to rid yourselves of the Proggy judges who rule that this nonsense is fine and dandy. I believe this is called cleaning house.

    THEN AND ONLY THEN will some form of sanity become the standard of Vermont and the rest of the Country. After that, you can go back to educating instead of indoctrinating.

  17. I worked very closely with the principal of our school when my sons were attending. If they had an issue with the boys behavior, lack of homework, etc…they notified me and I would arrive at school and the son in question and I would sit with the principal and get both sides of the story, and work out a solution. Sometimes My sons would miss work, games etc. to make sure their school work and behaviors were in check. I told the school I was more than willing to uphold the discipline at home if I knew in a timely manner. The teachers and the Principal were very happy to have a willing parent be involved. I was a strict mom, but my boys never ended up on drugs, and they respect their elders. Be involved with your kids in school…let them know that you support them…It makes all the difference.

  18. This is so true in most every state if the students aren’t made to accept responsibility for their actions our world is in for more shootings,etc in the classes. Parents need to listen to what is being said and done and help enforce the rules. School and respect is first learned at home so parents start being a parent and not a friend you can be their friend once they grow up.

  19. This is well said. So much has changed in the school system with the younger teacher coming into the schools and the old teachers are being pushed out makes for all new changes with none of the old being past onto to today children. So–well said and I hope this goes from state to state and school to school. God Bless Us All

  20. Re: “I hope those who read this, especially teachers and taxpayers, take it seriously and begin to demand change and accountability.”

    Re: ” It’s time for Americans who want a better country to speak out and act according to their conscience…”

    Re: ” Enough is Enough!!”

    How can we expect reverence from students, or their parents, when the public school monopoly fails to respect those who fund it, attend it and work in it? Some of us have been recommending change for decades because we’ve seen this circumstance growing for decades. There is nothing new here.

    Make no mistake, change is occurring. But it’s not the public school monopoly making the changes.

    Consider that Vermont’s public school enrollments are in precipitous decline and that we can learn from parents homeschooling their children, sending their kids to independent schools or simply leaving for greener pastures when they can afford to do so. Yes, I’m recommending School Choice – yet again.

    And please resist the knee-jerk reaction that enabling School Choice doesn’t itemize specific programs that will correct this problem. That’s the point of a choice system – it promotes previously unforeseen innovation. School Choice advocates can’t specifically cite a given process that will decrease all bad behavior because – and you’ve heard this before – one size doesn’t fit all. Never has, never will.

    It seems to me that the entire public school monopoly is “…just trying to hang on long enough to reach full retirement…”. Unfortunately, we now have little more to lose. Enabling comprehensive School Choice will, on the other hand, enable the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. It’s time we trust it.

  21. Having done business in schools, both public and private, for over 36 years; I can attest to this article. The key is if you have a good principal that enforces discipline and backs the teachers, you will probably have a good school. I can walk into a school and tell what kind of school it is. Teachers have to put up with a lot of crap that they shouldn’t have to. The kids aren’t being taught manners and respect at home; it begins there.

  22. Charles Laramie identified the problem clearly and precisely. The basic problem is that liberals want to indoctrinate our young people to believe they’re entitled to do anything they want to do with no respect for anyone. Liberals also want to make sure that enough young people are left uneducated and indoctrinated, so liberals can take the country where they want to take the country, basically to institute a progressive fascism, with few if any young people in the future able to object or even knowing how to object and caring to object. They want to wipe the history of this country completely..
    The last time I taught was in 2001 in the Orford NH high school, where I did a semester of 20th century history for sophomore and junior classes for the regular teacher who was on maternity leave. I taught the classes while I was working on my thesis at Dartmouth College.

    One of my sophomore students called me a bitch in class. It was the last time he did that. I pulled his parents into the principal’s office, told them the consequences of their son getting involved with the wrong crowd and thus not learning ( His grade in my class was terrible at the time). The assistant principal was also the baseball coach. He and I decided the best punishment was for this young man was to sit on the bench of the school baseball team for the whole season even though he was one of the team’s best players. That is what happened. The young man shaped up in my class, raised his grade to a B by the end of the semester, and on one of my last days in that school, came in and thanked me for being tough on him. He had learned to respect me as his teacher and his fellow students as well. If more teachers were willing to take this same stance when needed, Vermont schools would return to the fine standing they once had. I grew up in Montpelier and had a fine education there in all the schools. My debate partner got a 4-year scholarship to Harvard.

    It’s time for Americans who want a better country to speak out and act according to their conscience and address the needs of all our young people, who today are being very poorly educated in too many schools. Thank you, Mr. Laramie for speaking so eloquently and so loudly. I would love to get to know you.

    • There is no need to make this a political discussion. Your opinion implies liberals ruin children and conservatives save them. It is a PARENTAL responsibility to prepare their offspring to present acceptable behavior out in society, which includes schools. Teachers are academic educators, parents are responsible to prepare their offspring to be educated.

  23. Charles Laramie thanks for stating what you have it’s about time someone states what really
    going on in our schools , I respect you for standing your ground !!

    The liberal minds running our schools are doing nothing but raising a bunch of thin skinned
    idiots ….. yes idiots . Boys with pants hanging off there butts , young girl dressing like they
    are in there twenties ( shameful ) and the teaches let them do it, NO dress code, No nothing
    the kids are running the schools, No discipline parents are no where to be found and if they
    are the first words ………….. we will sue you !! Time to take the schools back and have some
    discipline , teachers you are there to help them learn , your not there to be there FRIENDS.

    They will learn respect when they get into the real world , but it may be to late as they will
    already be tainted by liberal thinking ………..Enough is Enough !!

    • yet another reason to leave this god forsaken den of unorthodox liberal policy makers. Look at their arrogance in the face of failed policies wherever they rule; whether its on the national, state or local stage. The waste of time, labor and money is appalling.

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