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Gwinnett GA Teacher of the Year Resignation Speech

July 20, 2022

On May 23, 2022, Lee Allen, Gwinnett County (GA) teacher of the year, announced his resignation from Gwinnett Public Schools at a board meeting.

Man gets teacher of the year, then he says he has to leave. These things ought not to be, especially given that the district’s HR superintendent called this time “the Great Resignation.”

When the teacher of the year chooses to exit, perhaps it’s time for admin to both listen and act.

Allen had roughly three minutes to speak about his reasons for leaving Gwinnett County (not the profession entirely). I transcribed his words, which are captured on the Youtube video at the end of this post.

Lee Allen

According to his LinkedIn bio, Allen has been teaching high school math in Geogia for eight years: five in Whitfield County, and three, in Gwinnett County. He also holds certifications in English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and gifted education (Georgia teacher certification search engine here; Allens’ certification number is 1359637.)

Allen’s reasons (and proposed solutions) will surely resonate with K12 teachers nationwide.

Good evening. My name is Lee Allen. I’m the 2022 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year. I’m here tonight to speak about teacher retention.

At the end of this school year, I will be leaving Gwinnett County Schools, leaving behind the opportunity to submit for state teacher of the year and roughtly $10K in salary and, most importantly, the students and colleagues that I have built strong relationships with.

I’m leaving in hopes that I can regain the ability to do the job that I love. I’m speaking tonight to use my small platform to raise awareness on issues facing teachers today so that the district can consider a plan– a plan to proactively combat these issues before more learning is lost and more teachers leave.

I do not claim to speak for all teachers; however, I have spoken with several teachers across the district and state, and I have solicited and received feedback online from others.

The first issue at hand is student apathy and disrespect for school rules and norms. Returning from concurrent learning, we have an alarming number of students that simply do not care about learning and refuse to even try. We are also experiencing incredible disrespect and refusal to follow basic school rules. There is little to no accountability for grades or behavior placed on students or parents.

Rather than being asked what the student can do to improve their understanding, teachers are expected to somehow do more with less student effort.

Next: cell phone use. Teachers cannot possibly compete with the billions of dollars tech companies pour into addicting people to their devices. Phones allow constant communication, often being the spark that fuels fights, drug use, and other inappropriate meet-ups throughout the day.

We need a comprehensive district plan with support behind it to combat this epidemic and protect the learning environment.

Lastly, there’s a huge disconnect between administrators and teachers. The classroom in 2022 is drastically different from just three years ago. Most administrators have not been in the classroom full time in years or even decades. Many teachers currently do not feel understood, valued, or trusted as professionals from the administrators and the decisions that they make. Many decisions seem to be short-term bandaids placed on gaping wounds.

While these issues are not new, and there was a negative trend in these in education before 2020, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst and turned a slow, negative trend into an exponential crisis.

I won’t list complaints without offering ideas for improvement. First, all administrators from the school level and throughout the ISC (instructional support center) should be required to spend one week immersed in a high-needs classroom– without a suit, without people knowing your title– and in the same room all day for an entire week. If administrators truly care about improving the issues, then they need to understand what is happening.

You cannot understand the issues in planned visits or 15-minute observations.

Next, smaller class sizes need to be a priority; 36+ students in an academic class makes it near impossible to manage post-COVID behavior while effectively meeting the much-higher, post-COVID needs of every student.

Twenty-five students in a sheltered, ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) is not what’s best for Gwinnett’s diverse student body.

Every single decision we make should be for the students. Picture this: A circular model of teachers, parents, and administrators working together with students at the center. Currently, the circle is broken. We must offer support without threats or frivolous lawsuits. We all want the same thing. We cannot accomplish this without supporting one another. Students need clear and consistent expectations.

Lastly, there needs to be transparency. [Note: Allen was out of time and rushing to finish.] In January of this year, GPS (Gwinnett Public Schools) reported that behavioral roles (rates?) are at the same level, yet many teachers and people are raising red flags about what is happening. Is it the same, and, as any good leader will tell you, you cannot fix a problem that you won’t admit exists. Thank you.

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12 Comments
  1. Daedalus permalink

    Well, no doubt the district is sorry to see this guy go, since he is one of a few qualified to teach ‘math’. Thus, he had the choice to move that many teachers lack.

    However, his placing of the blame upon students indicates that he probably shouldn’t be a teacher in the first place.

    • His point is about accountability and appears to point back to admin.

      • Daedalus permalink

        Yep. The latter part of his comment is interesting. I was put off by his lead-in. Sorry, the students are NEVER the problem. A teacher who blames the students… well

        I was a ‘math’ (as well as ‘science’) teacher, and many with that expertise revel in their apparent expertise. Most in my former position had a rather superficial understanding of their subject, however. Being so rare (certified in those ‘STEM’ areas), they can be arrogant. They are privileged (like myself) to be able to get another position any time they want. Unfortunately, most with a degree that allows them to ‘make money’ in other areas decide to make money. It’s the rare person who decides to sacrifice for the benefit of the future.

        But, you know, a teacher ought to recognize that his or her students are the raw material that they are obligated to shape into a thinking adult. If you drop a blob of clay onto a wheel, and then form it into a mess, the mess is not the fault of the blob of clay (not saying’ that kids are either blobs or clay, but they are ‘undeveloped’).

        The person who wrote this may mature. I hope so. Also, I understand the restrictions that ‘systems’ impose, so the final body of his message is understood.

    • Daedalus permalink

      I do totally agree, however, on his comments about ‘class size’. One cannot address the particular needs of students in a large class. How large? I found about 18 to be the limit. On the other hand, I also found that there was a lower limit. In very small classes, the personal conflicts between students tend to cause a problem. Classes of 5 or less can be a problem.

    • I think, rather Daedalus, YOU misunderstood this rather mature teacher’s intention. Of course the child is not to blame for their apathy and poor behavioral choices. It’s the community around them. I think you missed the whole point. He would never have said the child should be the center of concern had he thought the child was to blame. A child’s behavior can be corrected if the people around him (family, administration, teachers, etc) held them accountable. Children’s brains are not fully formed. We need the entire community on board: Students, Parents, Teachers, Administrators, and Policymakers at the district level. He is absolutely right. The circle is broken.

    • John P., Sandra Forrest, edietaylor are absolutely spot on. We’ve stopped holding children accountable for their actions and have no expectations of parents for the last decades and here we are. All of the Special Ed policies, No(All Children) Child Left Behind, Common Core, etc. have made it more and more difficult to hold students accountable. Discipline is a form of tough love and essential to help students to become the productive citizens we want. Would you allow your child to scream obscenities at you and others, destroy the house, hit you and their siblings, never clean their room or do chores without consequences? I wouldn’t and I believe my students deserve as much as my children. If you care at all about students you will hold them accountable and give consequences.

    • Dr. Ken Ellinger permalink

      Students deserve plenty of blame. You clearly don’t know squat about teaching if you think otherwise! Student behavior has to change, but it’s up to us as professionals to MAKE it change! However, there is very little appetite for that among administrators and parents. If you can’t see that you are choosing not to look at it! Denial is the name of the game in public education now!

  2. John P permalink

    I quite agree with Lee Allen. With the impact of COVID, I took the easy way out and retired at age 64. In my retirement, I was given the opportunity to teach for a semester at a Catholic high school. The difference was unbelievable. Virtually all of the issues that Mr. Allen raises had been addressed at the school. The students were respectful, and interested in learning. Class sizes were about 20. While cell phone use was somewhat an issue, it was not an issue during direct instruction. Finally, parents were greatly engaged in the educational of their children, which also may a tremendous difference. I disagree with Daedalus that you cannot blame the students. Take the simple issue of cell phone use. The decision to use the cell phone is a student decision. The violation of the rules is choice on the part of the student. To say that a teacher is somehow deficient because they lay the responsibility for these types of decisions at the feet of the students is ignoring the fact that we are also attempting to make the students responsible adults. As the old saw goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink applies equally well to students and learning.

  3. Sandra Forrest permalink

    If teachers were on their cell phones during all staff meetings and administrative gatherings, how do you think that would go?

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