GILLETTE, Wyo. — A Campbell County School District teacher who said she would die in the classroom decided to resign this past school year.
Jennifer Farnes taught sixth grade at Rawhide Elementary for seven years. She was
named Campbell County School District Teacher of the Year in 2020.
And then, despite their love for students, she and Ross Hauptman, a fifth grade teacher at Rawhide who won Washakie County School District 2’s Teacher of the Year award in 2019, packed up their classrooms.
In a three-page letter dated June 2 addressed to CCSD administration and school board members, they said they felt “defeated and done.”
“We loved walking into the classroom each school day to see our students, connect with them, learn and grow with them as they gained new knowledge and questioned the world around them,” the letter said. “There is nothing in the world like seeing a student get a concept they have struggled to understand. The look on their face and the rush of excitement is inspiring and exhilarating! Those ‘lightbulb’ moments were enough to sustain our spirit when the other aspects of teaching took their toll. Alas, those moments could sustain us no longer. Defeated and dejected, we leave with shattered hearts and somber spirits, a shell of who we used to be — we are broken.”
They said many of their colleagues “teeter on the edge” of leaving teaching as well because of policies and practices that take teachers’ attention away from students.
“We put more stock into achievement as measured by state testing than we place on achievement in other realms like behavior, social-emotional growth, and academic growth once thought impossible by struggling students,” they said. “Education has become a numbers game, and if the numbers aren’t right, those in the classroom feel the pressure, even the scorn from those charged with leading them.”
They said teachers’ responsibilities are growing rapidly, and teachers need more support to cope with responsibilities of roles they’ve played, including parents/guardians, counselors/psychologists, police officers, cheerleaders, data analysts, mentors and mediators, which have costs.
“The cost of mental and physical health, family time, happiness, and ultimately the price is paid by the students who miss out on great teachers who have made a positive difference but end up leaving a profession they love,” they said.
They provided 15 recommendations for administrators and school board members in the letter.
In short, they asked administrators to lead by example; respond to staff’s ideas, complaints and successes; meet with staff; explain the reasons for decisions; limit administrators’ duties that take them away from schools; provide teachers “meaningful and purposeful” planning time; empower teachers to take risks and be innovative; and to have equal expectations for staff members’ contributions and students’ discipline.
Farnes and Hauptman said they want principals to be in schools, supporting staff and students.
“They should not be in endless meetings, costly conferences, and they should not be coaching sports,” the letter said.
Farnes said in an interview July 18 that many teachers have privately thanked her for the letter, which she publicly shared on social media. She said she wishes they would speak up.
She hopes that Gillette community members hold each other accountable within the school district. Parents should reach out to teachers if teachers haven’t reached out to them and administration and school board members should be more present and visible in schools and to be better listeners to teachers.
“I couldn’t even tell you who my board member was for Rawhide,” she said.
Forums where the district superintendent and deputy superintendent allow community members to ask questions about plans they intend to roll out would be helpful, she said.
“Everyone in the community is a stakeholder within the school district,” she said. “We all benefit from students getting quality education. And don’t get me wrong; I think there are phenomenal teachers here, and this is one of the best places to get an education. But there’s work to be done. We’re not perfect. … We’ve got to be open to criticism, and we’ve got to be open to making changes that need to be made, and listening to people that we may not want to listen to – like the Jen Farnes of the world.”
Farnes said July 18 that she mailed the letter to Superintendent Alex Ayers, Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer and Campbell County school board members and that she did not receive a response.
County 17 emailed Ayers, Campbell County School District Board chairwoman Anne Ochs and Human Resources Director Larry Reznicek July 15 to determine whether they had received the letter and to provide them an opportunity to respond to it, addressing County 17 readers regarding the letter and any staffing challenges.
Ochs’ email response July 18 was the following:
“Things are going well as far as the hiring process. We certainly hope to fill all open positions by the time school starts! When great teachers leave our district, we are always sorry to see them go. We appreciate their years spent in the district, serving Campbell County kids, and we wish them well in their new endeavors. Thanks for your questions!”
Ayers and Reznicek did not respond to the County 17’s email.
Farnes said Aug. 3 that she has not received a response from school board members, Ayers or Eisenhauer. She said she completed a digital exit interview with human resources but did not receive a response to it.
Farnes said Aug. 3 that when she resigned, she felt it was the end of her classroom teaching days but in talking with other teachers and parents, she learned of growing interest in establishing a charter school.
“I have no idea where it will lead, but we are going to take the next steps,” she said. “When I resigned, I thought I had left education forever. Only time will tell.”
University of Wyoming College of Education Assistant Professor Mark Perkins, the president of the Rocky Mountain Association of Institutional Research and a faculty fellow at the Center of Business and Economic Analysis, conducted a study this spring with Wyoming Education Association on the general satisfaction and intent to leave of Wyoming teachers.
Sixty-five percent of the 700 teachers who responded to the survey said that if they could quit, they would but cannot quit due to financial or other reasons and that teachers reported having longer work hours and experiencing more incidents of aggression since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The report recommends focusing on teacher mental health, building community and professional support, reevaluating assessment practices and seeking ways to address increased workload.
Hauptman could not be reached for comment.