Quiet Quitting Teaching: Why I Can’t Do It

I only became aware of the term Quiet Quitting this week. My wife mentioned it, and I first thought it meant that you silently left your job without making much noise or letting them know why you were quitting. Turns out, it means continuing to do your job but doing the bare minimum. You stay under the radar. You do what you’re told, but nothing else. You do not bring your best self to the job.

I cannot quiet quit by any definition.

If I do quit, it will be very noisy. I will let anyone and everyone who is in earshot know why. I will also let them know what made me stay for as long as I did.

In the meanwhile, I will not Quiet Quit.

Here is what Quiet Quitting would look like to me.

I would dole out the textbook pages according to the pacing guide on the district curriculum map. I would assign the work. I would assess the work. I would use only the resources given to me by the district; I would never invent or seek out my own resources. I would only give feedback on the work on the map, and only use the guidelines handed to me in the textbook teachers edition. I would not think.

I would not convey any enthusiasm. I would let the textbook try to impress upon them why this stuff matters. I would spend as little time as possible in front of the class. I would seat my students in rows so they would be more likely to stay silent and compliant as they did the textbook writing assignments – all test preparation for a now-defunct test – and answered the textbook questions.

I would not bother trying to convey my own enthusiasm for and love of reading and writing. Doing so is no longer part of my job.

But I am not capable of that. It would kill me inside.

I. Love. Teaching.

I love thinking about my school year like a piece of writing, like an adventure I’m taking my students on. I love coming up with writing exercises to improve their writing and then setting them free to write about whatever they want using their newfound skills. I love finding the perfect story, essay, or poem to get them thinking about what they read in certain ways. I love helping them to make connections. I love hearing their small group discussions. I love participating in large group discussions. I love reading their writing and seeing them grow. I love hearing their responses to the things they read. I love it when a student notices something in a text that I hadn’t noticed despite having taught that text a hundred times.

I love watching them create projects in response to plays and novels. I love watching them perform their projects. I love seeing my creative writing students read the children’s books they wrote to the first graders they wrote them for.

I love framing all the work I do around an inquiry question that matters: what is happiness? What is success? What is real power and how should it be used? What is the purpose of education? I love helping students to see writing less as following instructions and more as making choices. I love helping students to see reading as deeply meaningful rather than something they do to pass a test. I love helping students think about their behavior as something they should control not because they are being rewarded or punished but because their behavior helps create a certain kind of classroom, school, community – or world.

I love that all too much to stop. Even when the system seems to be pressuring me to be less than I am.

I think as Americans we have a very conflicted relationship with Work – especially as we move away from the height of the pandemic. I know my relationship is very conflicted. On the one hand there is the attitude, expressed by, among others, Ray Bradbury, that if you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Then there is the idea, expressed over and over by Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

This is a topic for my ambiguity map – my web of things I’m ambivalent about.

What I’m not ambivalent about is that I love teaching.

I think there are many teachers who quietly quit from the day they enter the classroom. They just do the bare minimum and keep their heads down. I think there are many of us who are crazy about our jobs, despite all the things conspiring against us loving our jobs – despite the low pay, overpacked classrooms, micromanagement, long hours, bad professional development, and lack of respect and appreciation.

Here’s what really baffles me.

You would think most employers would want creative, motivated, resourceful, engaged, passionate employees who care about doing the best job they can, who see their work as deeply meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling.

Why would any profession promote Quiet Quitting as its ideal of professional behavior?

Yet that’s what the Teaching Profession seems to be doing. The behavior they promote is Quiet Quitting behavior.

But what we’re seeing, I think, is that Quiet Quitting eventually becomes Quiet REALLY Quitting.

And then you don’t have enough teachers to fill your over-packed classrooms.

Why has Quiet Quitting become what we’re promoting as the ideal of teaching?

I have some theories.

Post Script: After some comments this post has received on social media, I would like to clarify something. It seems people are thinking of Quiet Quitting in terms of time. That is not my primary focus here. I am thinking of Quiet Quitting in terms of engagement, caring, and creativity. Time is a separate issue. However, I believe that the way I describe Quiet Quitting in this post, it would encompass spending very little time on the job as well. If I just follow the map and obey, I will spend no time at all on planning – it’s been done for me. That said, I do my creative planning mostly on the clock, and I am doing it for the students and to create my own job satisfaction, not for “the powers that be.” As I said, our relationship with work is very fraught.