I keep fairly tight lipped about my job. There’s a reason for it. Number one, I deal with very confidential information and can only share so much. Number two, teachers are held to pretty high standards and it’s not hard to get pulled into the gossip train without even knowing. The past few years have been rough on all of us. Multiple professions are seeing burn out and people leaving the career at a rapid pace. We don’t have a monopoly on it and I won’t even guess as to who “has it the worst.” Quite frankly it doesn’t even matter. People are still leaving at a faster rate than people are entering. I’m going to mainly speak on teaching because that is what I have first hand experience in. In no way does it diminish or invalidate the burn out in other careers. Before continuing, I ask that you take off your glasses that color your frame of reference from your own school days. Just like being a patient does not give you a great indicator of what doctors, nurses, lab techs, OTs, PTs, etc. go through, being a student gives you very little indicator of what being a teacher is like. That and the education field is rapidly evolving. With an open heart and broadened mind, I invite you to the REAL world of education.
We all know teachers do not go into the profession for the money. I realize the vast majority of us are in it for our students. I’m not any different. I promise I don’t willingly take on all of the “hard” kids for some crazy power trip. That does not mean we should sit down and shut up because we “chose this.” This is the excuse given to all fields experiencing burn out and it’s not a valid explanation for any of us. So, if that’s your answer… congrats you’re part of the problem. Those of us who “chose this” are now “unchoosing” because you’re 100% right. We don’t HAVE to continue. Which is leading to shortage of workers and a decrease in quality from those that remain. Think of any field with a mass exodus. That excuse has been worn out and it’s time to actually do something.
Let’s look at all of the demands on teachers right now. Teach the standards so kids all learn the same things (I’ll come back to THESE later.) Differentiate the lessons to reach all learners, but keep it to the standards. Don’t forget to post your learning targets and success criteria. Go over them before every lesson but make sure you get all of the content plus intervention time for struggling learners and extension for the gifted kids. You have to cover math, language arts, science and social studies. There are standardized tests that we’ll use to judge your abilities. Teach that but don’t forget to teach real world stuff. People are going to complain if these real world skills are embedded into core subjects, so better figure out how to fit those in too. Social Emotional Learning is key to a well rounded learner so do that. However, we don’t have the funds to properly train you on how to recognize deficits in social and emotional cognition. You can spot learning disabilities so that should be enough. If there are behaviors set realistic consequences, nurture the kid, but we’ll reward the kid if they get sent to admin. We won’t ensure all teachers are consistent with that kid though, so have fun. Oh, don’t forget to make a goal for yourself and provide monthly data as to how you are going to reach it. Your pay is affected by it. Don’t ever take a day off because there aren’t any subs. By the way can you cover your class plus the class next door? I know you only have a short prep, but you need to deal with this situation during it. You can prep before or after school, right. Just so you know you’re only paid from 8 to 3:30 though. Find time for “fun” things like art and activities. You need to make school fun. That kid didn’t sleep so figure that out. That one hasn’t eaten since before the weekend so might want to find some snack. Her mom was high all weekend. His dad beat his mom last night. Her mom OD-Ed two months ago. His dad went to jail. Don’t forget the paperwork. The state regulations say the paperwork needs to be done for all 25 of those kids by next week. Don’t forget the added piece to show you are addressing learning loss from COVID. Don’t indoctrinate the kids, but make sure you teach in an ethnically sensitive manner so all students feel welcome. That’s a controversial topic so stay away from it, but you must address this controversial issue. Purchase hundreds of dollars of supplies from your own wallet because we don’t have the funding to give you a bigger budget. That’s not too much to ask right? Just so you know we care, don’t forget self-care.
Y’all, I wish I was exaggerating or making this up. The demands are asinine. Most laws regarding education are made by non educators. Many in administration were never teachers. Some are on a power trip. You will get some awesome admin, but there’s only so much they can do when everything is stacked against them too. They aren’t any less overwhelmed. The public constantly blames the teacher’s union for problems, but that union is what keeps the admin on a power trip or those who only see dollars from taking advantage of the highly educated professionals who deal with the day to day. Many teachers end up with a master’s or two by 30. Even more will get one before retirement. You’d think we’d be consulted on various initiatives being taken. That just doesn’t typically happen. That’s why even if we don’t agree with every stance the union takes, many still will join. The protection is essential.
Remember those standards? Basically it’s a statement about what students should know by the end of the year in specific skills. It doesn’t say HOW you should teach it, but we all know how it’s going to be presented on the standardized tests. There are way more standards than one can possibly teach in a year so we have to find the “Essential Standards.” These are the standards they absolutely must know in order to successfully complete grade level assignments moving forward. Why did they not just make these? No clue. What about the kids who cognitively will never meet grade level standards? You still need to expose them to it. And they take the same tests which judge your teaching even though they won’t meet the standard. 80% of students should meet standards using typical lesson materials. 10-15% more should require only minimal in classroom interventions. 5-10% can have intensive pull out interventions. I work in a school with 30% special education students. Native American students make up the same percentage as white students. We are serving kids who live on one of 2 nearby reservations and have great grandparents who attended the forced boarding school. There is so much distrust from their families in the education system and we have so little we can do to ensure them things are different now. This “ideal percentage” model doesn’t take things like that into consideration.
I don’t want to pretend there aren’t awful teachers, groups that want to push their political ideology in the schools, and other such things. There are. However, the vast majority of teachers do not share their political beliefs with their students and take great care not to influence this. I know my goal is to teach them how to examine the facts and reach a well-supported conclusion even if that conclusion differs from my own. My students haven’t any clue who I’ve voted for or what I think of various controversial topics. They know I care about them and that I will do my best to teach them. I am not some shiny outlier either. Most of us are like this. I couldn’t tell you most of my colleagues’ political leanings. I could guess on a few, but I doubt I would get even 50% correct as a whole. There are more than 2 stances on any given issue and I’m sure my coworkers fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes. Yet listen to people talk about the education field on social media and you’d get a very skewed view. Social media is toxic in every area of life, but I promise its influence is leading to the burn out. Please don’t take everything on social media as fact. Verify it at the source. It’s what we expect the kids to do anyways. Kids are doing awful things on social media. Parents are doing awful things on social media. The community is doing awful things on social media. It’s becoming a toxic waste dump with very few redeeming qualities. I promise, unless people start to show some digital citizenship, social media will become a monster that can’t be contained.
One thing I hear almost daily is we can’t complain because we only work 9 months a year. Oh, the ignorance of that statement. We get PAID for 180 days. 180 eight hour days with prep and student free lunches and supplies provided merely teaching. What the reality is… most get to work significantly before our contract time. Most either stay beyond that contract time or take work home to do after hours. I don’t think I know any teachers who merely do their contracted time. Prep time is often filled with meetings or parent phone calls or other such things. However, we still have to plan lessons and interventions, get the materials set, and ensure we have clear lesson targets. There’s also this little thing called grading and paperwork. Needless to say those are some of the things done after hours. I shut my classroom down for 10-15 minutes daily to pump, but I do paperwork at this time. If I didn’t need to have my chest exposed, I wouldn’t even take that. Most teachers don’t end up with duty free lunch. Kids come in for help at recess. Teachers may have lunch duty. I don’t typically eat anything until after work… that includes breakfast. What teacher doesn’t end up spending $500 on stuff that will be directly consumed by the students? That is equivalent to expecting doctors to pay for the sutures and antibiotics they use on the patient. Or expecting a car mechanic to buy the oil and fuel filter they put into a customers’ car. Or a waiter paying for the napkins and condiments for the patron’s table. Teachers also are dealing with mental health needs, food insecurity, etc of their students on top of educating them. It’s just becoming too much.
I don’t have a solution for this problem. For now, I even plan to keep trucking along trying to keep my head above water in a job I truly love. However, we all have a breaking point. I know so many teachers getting ready to retire without looking back. I know teachers new to the field already leaving. On a given day, I’m close to 4 paras short. So now, the support we need isn’t being covered either. Yes, I chose this. But that doesn’t mean this is ok. And one day, I might decide it’s just no longer worth it. What happens when too many leave any one of the fields experiencing burn out? We’re drowning. People in other areas need to start throwing out a line, or there will be no one left.