ST. PETERSBURG — There wasn't a single incident. His frustration had been building for a long time.
In early November, Gibbs High School world history teacher Neil Cammardella realized he had to get out. Well liked by students and teachers, the 26-year-old quit his first real teaching job after just two years.
His assistant principal asked him to take the weekend to think about it. He did but didn't change his mind. A few days before he left, he told his 10th-graders he wanted to go back to school. They seemed to understand.
Inside, he felt guilty about leaving mid-year. He knew it was unfair to them. But he needed a change. On Nov. 13, he walked out the door for good.
Cammardella talked with the St. Petersburg Times about his decision to leave Gibbs, an "F" school where 66 percent of freshmen and sophomores were not reading at grade level last year.
What type of teacher were you?
I came in with high expectations and gradually over the year, they just kept getting lower and lower. Initially, I thought I could hand out an article and they would read it and we could talk about it. And then it did evolve where I'd read out loud and then we talked about it. It was not what I wanted, I guess, but I had to teach the way they needed to be taught. Independent reading wasn't working.
Tell me about the moment you decided to quit.
Well, there wasn't anything specific. It was like a slow realization. I played with the idea for a while. It just broke me down slowly. I couldn't live my life waiting for a vacation.
Were you frustrated?
Oh, definitely. A lot of it was that I wasn't prepared for a lot of the issues I saw in the classroom. I mean, from my experience in life and what I was taught and the education classes I took in college, it seemed a lot more juvenile than I expected. Juvenile maybe isn't the right word. I guess I was expecting more student responsibility and involvement. Even if I wasn't 100 percent interested in some teacher I didn't get along with, it was better for me in the long run to play along and get a grade and get out of there.
What did you observe with your students? What kinds of things?
Everything. I had great students who did extra work for no reason, kids who paid attention all the time. And I had kids who were concerned about socializing or showing the class that they were in charge and not me.
My parents were always involved in my education, and I guess I was naive. I thought that's how all students were. I didn't know such a large majority of students had so little parental involvement. D's and F's were just part of their lives, and there was no consequence from home for bad behavior in the classroom. I made one call home and I said, "Your child needs help in class. There are behavior issues." And that parent said to me: "Well, I deal with my child at home. You deal with him in school." Once you hear that, there's nothing you can do.
What made you decide to give it up?
Well, it was always a struggle. It was always very stressful for me. Keeping the class in line all the time, I had to put on a show. Every minute, I had to do it. If I let up for a small amount of time, it was like a deck of cards. It would all come crashing down, and I'd spend the next 10 or 15 minutes pulling it back on track. I couldn't let up for a second. "Stop that. Don't touch him. Sit down." Too much time was being taken with managing behavior. Especially this year. Teaching was not happening. I felt if I'm not getting the job done, I need to get someone else to do it because I was not succeeding.
Tell me a little about your lifestyle, because I've heard it's unique.
Well, I try to make decisions that are the most efficient and resourceful, the least wasteful.
So I don't own a car. To me, it's kind of ridiculous to drag around 2 tons of steel when you go down the street to buy some eggs. I ride a bike, use public transportation. I live in Grand Central so I can walk to almost anything I need. I'm trying to make my life simpler. I don't use climate control: heat or air conditioning.
What type of job are you trying to get?
I want to go back to school. I've thought of going into engineering, and I really would like to get involved in some kind of job that involves renewable energy or resource management. But right now I'm putting resumes out around the city in the service industry, restaurants. I had an interview at a restaurant to be a server this week. I have an interview to be a lifeguard next week.
I just didn't see myself teaching for the next 20 or 30 years. I was getting headaches. I was stressed out. I have to be in a job that I can at least tolerate, if not like or love, which is what I'm searching for now.
Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8640.