Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a teacher. I idolized my elementary teachers, played school at home with my dolls, and actually enjoyed going to my mom’s classroom during the summer as she graded papers, taught summer school, or added to her classroom decor. I grew up in a family of educators – all were passionate about their profession; each believe in a child’s ability to become anything they dream of being.
In high school, I signed up for a cadet-teaching class, allowing me to work in a preschool classroom 2-3 days a week. I fell in love. I could not imagine doing anything with my life outside of teaching in a classroom. I knew it was my passion, my calling. Each field experience in college further confirmed my passion for education. I can vividly remember my first teaching interview, the joy I felt as I was shown to MY very first classroom, my heart-skipping as I saw my name outside the door. I look back at that moment–that joy I had. The passion. I remember how I promised myself, that young, first-year teacher, that when that passion and joy for the job dropped, when it no longer exuded from my skin and was contagious to the students I taught, I would re-evaluate my profession. That it wasn’t fair for a student to have a teacher who didn’t demonstrate a passion for their profession.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamed that that moment would come so soon. I have taught in the public classroom setting for eight years, mere pennies to some of my distinguished colleagues who I have had the honor to teach with and learn from. I have taught a multitude of grade levels: kindergarten, first grade, third grade, and high school. With in each new school year and each grade level, I know, without a doubt, that I have made an impact on at least one of my students. I have watched them grow not only as learners, but also as human beings. But, with each year and grade level, a burden has also been added;one that seeps away just a little more of the first-year teacher’s passion I once recall. I turn on the news and read the newspaper headlines about the struggle to find educators. I read of the rising problem of educators leaving the profession. The news anchors and headlines, asking “Why?”
I know why.
Ask almost any educator today who has taught more than five years, and any one of us can tell you exactly why.
The fact that my passion as an educator is slowly being drained away has nothing to do with my salary or lack thereof. Remember, I come from a family of educators. I have grown up knowing that the education field is not a lucrative one. I did not become a teacher in hopes of becoming rich; I became one because of my passion to help students learn, because of the joy I received in watching a student have their “light-bulb” learning moment, knowing I was a part of that. No, there are many reasons why educators are losing their passion and choosing to leave the profession, but it’s not the money.
In reflecting on my career thus far in the field, I have narrowed it down to five reasons that my job has become much more difficult than it once was and why it has begun to take a toll on me and my family. My passion for this noble profession, like that of many of my colleagues, is slowly being drained because:
- We didn’t sign-up to be a security guard. This sounds harsh, but it’s true. In the world we live in today, teachers and students don’t truly feel safe at school. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of school shootings and safety violations since I joined the profession. When I first became a teacher, never once did I have to think about what I would do in the situation of an active shooter. This year, I did and it rocked me to my core. I was eight months pregnant, eating lunch with my colleagues, when the fire alarm went off. If you’re a teacher, you know there are no planned fire alarms during a lunch period. I vividly remember looking at my fellow teachers in the lounge and voicing that I didn’t want to evacuate–that I feared this was not a fire drill, but a moment that could put all of us at risk– a way to get us all outside in the open. I did not sign on for this fear when I became a teacher. I did not agree to be responsible for not only teaching my students the curriculum, but teaching them what to do if someone enters our classroom with a gun. I did not sign on to teach them how to hide or how to evacuate. Have you ever had to have that conversation with a six-year-old, while still attempting to reassure them how safe their school is? Trust me, it’s hard.
- We did not sign-up for the emotional stress. More and more of today’s students are suffering from mental health issues. It is becoming a silent crisis within our schools. In addition, students are not receiving the help they need to address these issues as our school and class sizes continue to rise, leaving students to fall between the cracks. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that they carry the successes and burdens of their students. Every day, I bring home the worries of not only myself and my family, but of my students as well. As a teacher, I have sat in countless case conferences and meetings outlining a student’s past: mental and physical abuse, poverty, living in squalor. This is hard to take on as a teacher – knowing your students’ burdens and feeling helpless outside of the walls of your classroom. In addition, the rate of suicide or suicide attempts by students are increasing as these mental health issues go unidentified or untreated. There is nothing worse as a teacher than receiving a phone call or reading an email informing you that a student of yours has attempted suicide. I have received two. It is heartbreaking. It leaves you questioning what more you, as their mentor, could have done. What silent cries for help did you miss?
- We sacrifice our needs and our family’s needs to meet the needs of our students. Anyone who believes that a teacher’s hours are the hours posted outside the school office’s doors has never met a teacher or spent time in their shoes. We get to work before the bell rings; we stay long after the last student leaves. We come in on the weekends and on our “vacations”– heck some of us still even come in on snow days. In addition, thanks to our society today, we are expected to answer emails from our students or their parents at a moment’s notice and have grades entered and up-to-date within hours. Add in the necessary time needed to plan lessons that meet the individualized needs of our students on 504 plans, or who have language or individualized education plans, and you are looking at WAY more than forty-hours a week. But, lo and behold we do it all. We get it all in, but at the sacrifice of our own families. We sacrifice playing with our littles ones on the weekend in order to grade the pile of essays. We sacrifice the MUCH NEEDED adult conversations with our spouses in the evening to finalize our lesson plans, respond to emails from students, and enter our grades. We sacrifice ourselves–that self-love we need–in order to get it all done. We stay up late, long after the bedtime we needed, in order to help our own kids with their homework, cook dinner, and get just a little quality time with them before they go to bed–staying up to answer the questions about the project that’s due tomorrow, to respond to the emails. This leaves us exhausted with little to give to our students, our spouses, or our kids.
- We are the scapegoats. I remember growing up as a child and coming home with a note in my folder, an explanation as to why I had to “clip-down” that day. Per usual, I was just a little too social for my own good at times. However, that was never an excuse in my household. I was held responsible for it–ME, the student. The one who didn’t listen to her teacher, who didn’t follow the rules. While there are still parents out there today who trust in their child’s teacher, who believe that maybe, just maybe, the story their child is telling about that low-grade or behavior note, isn’t the whole truth, unfortunately, those parents are few and far between. Today, teachers are becoming the scapegoat for a child’s low grade or poor behaviors: we have it out for their child, we aren’t fair, we teach in a style that isn’t to their child’s liking. Let me be honest here, parents. It is difficult to teach to thirty different students at one time and match EVERY single one of their learning styles, but I still attempt to everyday. I promise I have never been “out to get a child,” nor have I been biased towards them.Do we make the wrong decision sometimes, handle a situation in a way that may not be ideal? Absolutely, we are human. But, instead of insinuating and being quick to use us as a scapegoat, hear us out. Listen to my story, hear what I, as a professional, have to say about the situation or the grade before you’re quick to judge. It becomes exhausting to have to defend every decision that you make in your classroom to the students, to the parents, or to your administration, simply because a kid can’t own up to their mistakes or lack of planning.
- We are treated as a number, not as a human being. I saved this one for last, as it is the one that I feel has caused my passion to be drained. Education is a people business. We are asked, as educators, to treat our students with compassion, to show interests in their hobbies and passions, and to support them, yet we are not given that same courtesy. Very few districts and administrative teams are taking the time to treat you as a person, to give you the same respect they expect you to give your students. It only takes a moment to send a “Congratulations!” email to the new mom, to write an encouraging note after a hard day with a student, to compliment a teacher on an amazing lesson, a job well done.
In the past month, I have seen multiple current and former colleagues share that they are feeling disheartened, broken, and under-appreciated in their profession as an educator. These AMAZING educators are contemplating leaving the profession they love so much because they don’t feel supported. They watch as they or their colleagues are passed up for promotions – promotions which are given to other, less qualified candidates because they “know someone” on the “inside.” Politics. They watch their colleagues cry during their lunch break after a student verbally attacks them in front of their class, telling the administration that their teacher is a racist and unfair. They know she isn’t; they know the student was at fault. They know nothing will be done. Scapegoats. They watch their new momma colleague scrambling to keep it all together–using all of her prep time and lunch breaks to pump milk for her baby, knowing that means she will have hours of work at home. It doesn’t matter…they are a number on the staff payroll, not a person. They watch their colleagues pack their desk and carry their boxes home. They watch one leave the profession this year, two the next. They watch new teachers come in, full of passion and energy, to later watch them leave, their tanks empty.
Education is, and has always been my passion. I truly believe education is the foundation of our future and is crucial to the upbringing of our society. I still see glimpses of that first-year teacher me – the one full of passion. I see her as I help our daughter with her homework. I see her as I teach online and tutor. She’s still in there, but I know that in order to rejuvenate that passion for me and for all teachers in our education system today, it’s time for those outside of the profession to stop asking”Why?” and start listening. Listen to the teachers in your community. Stop assuming it’s our schedule or our pay, and truly listen. The burdens of our job are heavy and we don’t carry them lightly. We need your support. We need your compassion. Most of all, we need you to treat us as human beings, because we are.