What makes a teacher stay teaching when everything goes wrong? What is the breaking point to make them want to quit? Almost everyday there is another sad story of a teacher who says good-bye to their students and closes the classroom door for the last time.
This is especially a problem when it comes to Hispanic and black teachers who leave the classroom at a higher rate.
I have condensed a post I wrote two years ago titled, “‘I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Take This Anymore!’ The Real Reasons Why Teachers Stay or Quit the Profession.”
Last year the AFT and the Badass Teachers Association conducted a survey to see how teachers fared. They found many concerns.
I’m wondering how many teachers are asked by their principals to describe how they feel about teaching. How many school districts care enough about their teachers to find how they can make classroom conditions better for instruction. Do teachers get to fill out a survey about what they like and/or dislike about their teaching positions? Do superintendents visit schools and listen to concerns?
If you are a teacher today, it can be a gut-wrenching decision whether or not to stay in the classroom. Some teachers keep teaching under lousy conditions because they need the salary. Or, they believe they can still make a difference in their students’ lives. I know teachers who hope by staying they provide a cushion for children when things get tough.
Some teachers cling to hope for things to change. They believe in a better tomorrow.
I also know teachers who fight like hell from within their schools. Who take notes about the bad things that happen and who tell the world about it.
What drives teachers out of the classroom?
Here are scenarios I have collected by reading and talking to many teachers and parents:
- You are a kindergarten teacher and your principal shows up and tells you to remove the play kitchens and water tables, along with the costumes, dolls and blocks and everything related to playtime. What do you do? They tell you it’s time to get serious about teaching and learning.
- Your school district announces there will be fewer breaks and they will now ban recess so as to have more time for test prep, because they need to save the school from closing. If your students are lucky, they will get 20 minutes of recess each day, but you know that isn’t enough. PE is also on the chopping block. How do you respond, or do you say anything?
- If the principal says they can’t help it, but you are going to have to push the reading skills, administer Response to Intervention, and follow Common Core, PARCC, Smarter Balanced Assessment, and Next Generation Science Standards and you don’t think it’s good for your students, are there any steps you can take to get out of it?
- You are being pushed to do more with technology and it has little to do with your goals as a teacher.
- The school you work in is rundown and dirty. It is depressing to go to work.
- Your school board has just come out in favor of two more hours added to the school day so students can prep harder for reading. You know your students are already burned-out on all the reading review you do during the day. You know more time is too much, that it is the equivalent of child abuse. What do you do?
- A student in your class acts out. You know they need help but there is no place to turn. Some teachers have several students in their classes who are troubled and need additional support.
- Your dear friends, the art and music teachers, have just been let go, and now you must “blend” these subjects into reading and math. You know the quality of these subjects will never be the same again for your students. How do you proceed?
- You have angry parents who want you to quit teaching to the test, and they don’t want you administering the test to their child. They want you to stand up against testing. You don’t like the high-stakes tests either.
- How do you manage all the data collection when you want to be doing more meaningful work? How do you support parents and do what’s right for your students without losing your job?
- You are teaching high school and suddenly you are told your school will move to a block schedule and each student will face eight classes instead of the customary six. You know this will be overload for the high achieving students who will most likely add more advanced placement classes to their schedule, and arduous for students who are already struggling with learning and attention difficulties. Do you speak out?
- You are a general ed. teacher but your class sizes are increasing and the administration has added more students in your class with a variety of disabilities and some ELL students too. How will you reach so many students with so many needs?
- The school library just lost most of its books, and the shelves are now almost empty. One of the reasons you are told, is to align the books to the curriculum. You have also lost your school librarian. Is there a way you can get the books and the librarian back?
- You have poor children in your class. Some you think might be homeless and others look sick. Your school lost its nurse a long time ago. Your school counselor is not readily available, if you have one. How do you help these children and also the child who has a severe toothache?
I’m sure I am leaving something out. Feel free to add to this list.
Teachers must decide…do they stay or do they go? Either way they choose, teachers usually feel guilty.
There are some who say that teachers who recognize the draconian classroom goals and objectives and their professional emasculation, should all quit. They should announce to the world that they hate high-stakes testing, or Common Core, Competency-Based Education (CBE), or an innumerable array of insidious reforms, and then they should proudly stake their career on their beliefs and walk out the door.
Some do this, and then they go fight like hell for the rights of teachers and students.
Some teachers of like mind, ban together and put up a fight, like the teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School who boycotted testing.
Some teachers cry for awhile, then they turn away. They believe the only thing they can do is work on something else that will bring joy and happiness. They focus on their corner of the world, where they feel they have some control.
Who’s the best kind of teacher? That is not for me to judge, although I wonder about teachers who buy into every school reform that comes their way.
Every teacher must make up their own mind what their career means to them and how to best serve the children in their care. And there are always a whole lot of deeply personal outside factors that enter into the decision.
My only wish for any teacher is that whatever route they take they make peace with it, and that they continue to care for children somehow, in some way, because that is why they became a teacher in the first place.