Why Teachers Quit

i_quit_teaching_rectBy Matthew Olinski — I have noticed a few things about the changing workforce recently.

Recently I was able to observe a young startup marketing company, as I was asked to proofread some material for them. I noticed a few things. The employees there were able to work from home one day a week, came in wearing flip flops and jeans, were streaming music online the whole day, and generally had a very stress free environment.

Now — contrast that with an article  forwarded to me by a colleague regarding why teachers leave their profession at a higher rate than other professions.

There are so many relevant points in this article.

I’ve been in the classroom for 13 years as a professional educator, and have taught other classes for several years prior. I have seen things change during that tenure which add to a stress level which leads even veteran teachers to look for either a new school or a new career. I have seen changes in students, administrations that change often, and who often have less real experience in a classroom that then teachers they are supervising, an increased demand on our time, and a renewed public vocalization of criticism of teachers.

Act 10 certainly has not helped that atmosphere improve.  Before people automatically think “great, get the old teachers out and some new blood in,” they should ask themselves if that is really the precedent we want to set in our education field?

It is relatively naïve to assume that old teachers (who possess years of valuable experience) offer nothing to students and new teachers have the latest and greatest ideas.  I was recently offended by a comment made in a meeting to the effect of “I know people over 30 are afraid of technology…”.

What? I have been a technology pioneer since my student teaching days and since my first job.  I have adjusted with the technology, not run from it.  I maintain this blog as a way to stay in touch with newer ideas.  Just because that person is afraid of technology doesn’t mean the rest of us are.

I realize many people who go into teaching were good students themselves, which is why they are interested in this career field in the first place.  We have, as a group, relatively high expectations for our students.  It is what made us successful, and I believe those expectations are what is going to make our students successful as well.  For some reason, I have noticed a larger number of students who seem apathetic about their grades, or expect an A for doing low quality work.  Does it seem like you’re doing more of the work than the students?  That’s now how we produce leaders for tomorrow, it is how we as teachers make sure we really know our subject matter.

In a recent blog, a story was told of a student who made it through 6 grades without being able to read.  While yes, it is easy to point to those teachers who have had contact with that student and blame them, where are the parents in this situation?  They’re not around? That’s a major part of the problem.  This is not a new social phenomenon or job expectation. Teachers are expected not only to teach, but to adjust and adapt for each individual student as well.  I don’t know what the average class size is for elementary students. I can only speak from my experience. I have 6 classes of approximately 30 students in, plus an advisory with an additional 15 students in.  With close to 200 students walking through my door each day, it becomes very easy for one or more of them to fall through the cracks.  This expectation and the blame that goes with it leads to burnout.

I’m currently reading a book as part of our school’s professional learning community.  It sounds like a set of great ideas.  But really, how can anybody keep up the amount of energy required at all times, for the course of a full school year, every year?  In reality, you can’t.  Are you planning on starting a family?  I enjoy seeing my 16 month old daughter when I come home, not correcting an hour or two of homework.  One point from that online article, and I have seen this in my own life, is that you begin to spend more time at school for the sake of the students than you do with your own.

It is nice to hear that you’re doing a good job once in a while. I was reading the Franklin Now newspaper.  It mentioned that Franklin High School exceeded expectations on its most recent state report card. The principal’s response was paraphrased to the extent of, yeah we knew we would do well, we have excellent teachers in our school.  (For the record, I do not work in that school district, but I thought it was a nice compliment to be paid by the principal of the school to the teachers who have the most direct contact and influence on those students. This is a much more positive message than the lines of teachers are at the bottom of their graduating class in college.)

We expect a lot of our teachers. Maybe it IS a young person’s game.  Certainly the family commitments would be easier to accommodate. If that is the direction education is heading, then we are going backwards. Maybe we only want the least expensive people working. At a certain point they become too expensive, or expect to get paid too much and it’s time for them to find a career that pays more.  I would hope this is not the route we are going, but I also see a potential trajectory in that direction.

I’m not saying teachers are better than other people, and yes, other professions certainly expect long hours from their employees.  Do we think less of dentists, engineers, or mechanics who have been in their field for 15 or 20 years?  Are they subjected to potential violence from their customers with no repercussions?  Are they subjected to meeting standards that they have no control over? Most importantly, do they have the ability to use the bathroom in the middle of their work day?

As teachers, we are expected to have a minimum of a 4 year degree.  As a social studies teacher who once in a while reads about economics (as part of my licensure field), teaching does not make economic sense. And forget about the “emotional benefits”. For one, they don’t pay the bills, and two, we ask volunteers to come into our classroom all the time. They can get those same emotional benefits while making significantly more in their career field at the same time.   Read through that article, see what hits home, and ask yourself what are you going to do to change the way teachers are perceived?

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