Why Teachers Leave Teaching and What We Can Do About It

It's not the kids.

Let me say that again. It's not the kids.

Teachers go into teaching for the kids. We go in wanting to make a difference. We go in wanting to make sure students know that they are loved and cared for. We want to teach a love for learning. We want to give something of value to a younger generation.

But we're not valued.

Of course non-teachers say things like, "I don't know how you do it." And, "I couldn't do what you do all day. You're amazing."

But at the same time, we're expected to work miracles while getting paid peanuts.

And in the end, it's not really about the money either.

Sure, we want to be paid fairly. We protest and write letters. We advocate for proper funding for our schools and ourselves. (We do work well over 40 hours a week and we don't really have a summer break like the kids do, you know.)

But pay isn't really why we leave.

We leave because we are treated like children.

Teachers are competent professionals. Many of us have more than one degree. We came into this profession with passion and heart only to have it squashed out of us at every turn.

You wore your badge today? Here's a sticker. You've earned a free highlighter. Your class raised the most money for the latest cause? Great, now you get slimed in front of the whole school but you also get to wear jeans so it's okay. Haven't paid your dues to the Sunshine Committee? Let's make sure you do by including your name in a campus-wide email about who still needs to pay.

New mandate requiring an additional five hours of work a week? The teachers can handle it. Need to have a meeting? Teachers can do it during prep time. New curriculum program? Teachers can just learn as they go. No need for ongoing support. Professional development? Here's some training someone in the district office who doesn't know you or your students thinks you should have. And of course it's not differentiated. You differentiate for your students but we don't need to differentiate for you.

Behavior problems in class? You must not be doing enough for your students. Children in crisis? You can be their counselor and their teacher. Too much on your plate? Get a bigger plate. (An administrator actually said this to their staff, I kid you not.)

Teachers teach in isolation. Higher ups talk about collaboration and PLCs, but in practice that looks like a meeting lead by an admin with little to no actual learning or collaborating going on. Want to go watch another teacher teach so you can grow in you practice? Sorry, we don't have time for that. Want to go to a professional conference of your own choosing? Fine, but you'll have to use one of your personal days, and quite possibly pay for it out of your own pocket.

Test scores are used as a defining measure of teacher effectiveness. Some of these tests don't even assess the students on standards we're required to teach. But if a kid finishes a 40 question reading comprehension test in ten minutes, or is stripped from their family the night before testing and placed in foster care, or mommy gets sent to jail over the weekend, it must mean that I did not effectively teach that student. Forget the fact that the student didn't even READ the questions. But it doesn't matter. I still didn't do enough.

Teachers work well over the forty hours a week most professions work. We work on weekends and breaks. We pray for our students before going to bed each night and wonder how their holidays are going. We help them make gifts for their parents and teach them about generosity during the holidays.   We form relationships. We build children up. We show them how to access their potential. We teach them how to believe in themselves. We show them someone cares.

But if that test score doesn't make the cut, we are not enough.

And it's not teachers that tell each other we're not enough. Teachers build each other up too. We know we're all doing the best we can. We collaborate on our own time--in the lunch room, at each other's houses over break. When one of us has a bad a day, it's our teacher friends that help us put it all in prospective. It's our teacher friends that help us get through. It's our teacher friends that remind us we are doing all we can and that we are, in fact, enough. You are enough.

The outside pressure from "the higher ups" that make all the rules governing the things that happen inside our four walls are what is killing this profession. The lack of parental support is killing this profession. Most parents are doing the best they can--I'm not trying to throw anyone under the bus here. But when half a class is going through a traumatic event all at the same time, teachers have no choice but focus on emotional and mental health before getting to the academic stuff. Teachers know the Maslow stuff has to happen for the Bloom's stuff. If you don't know what that means, then you shouldn't be writing policies about education.

So, how do we fix this mess?

We start by giving teachers the respect other professionals of the same degree status receive. We are smart, educated people and deserve to be treated as such.

We fully fund schools. I don't understand why this is so hard for law makers to understand. It seems like a no brainer.

We give teachers the tools and autonomy to do their job.

We provide schools with enough counselors to effectively support our students, and we provide parents the support they need to effectively parent their children. We make mental health a priority.

We feed the kids. If a student doesn't have lunch money, ripping away their tray and tossing a cold sandwich at them is not a solution. Children cannot learn if they are hungry (or embarrassed). We must make sure they are fed and feel safe here.

We remember they are children. Students need breaks. They need processing time. They need to be able to enjoy their childhood and their education.

We teach deeper, not wider. People now have the world at their fingertips. Students don't need to know a slew of random facts. Students need to know how to learn, how to problem-solve, and how to think for themselves.

We create systems that support our children before they ever walk into the classroom--systems that allow children to get basic healthcare and food, systems that help kids foster independence and reduce the effects of trauma, systems that build up students and get them ready to enter schools. If students are actually ready to learn and go to school, teachers could spend more time on teaching tasks and less on behavior management.

In short, we support our students, families, teachers, and schools. Is that really too much to ask?