Why Teachers are Leaving, and Why We Should All Care


As another school year winds down, I find myself communicating with dozens of teachers each week either by phone or email. The conversations run along similar lines, and the theme remains consistent:  “I love my kids. If I could just teach, I would be happy to continue, but there is more to it than loving kids, and I just can’t do it anymore. Can you help me?”

This conversation breaks my heart every time I engage in it, but I do so because I want to help those teachers who are experiencing the pain and heartache of burnout.

Without exception, the individual with whom I find myself talking is smart and talented and started out with high expectations and pure intentions. Each one once had a sincere desire to be a great teacher. The experience of each person I have talked to has varied from five to 26 years. Some have been in one school, and others have been in different schools, but the story lines are similar regardless of whether the teacher in question is calling from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, or Richmond, VA. “I just can’t do it anymore. Can you help me?”

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I tell each of them that I can relate. I left public education after being one of its fiercest advocates four years ago. I took early (I mean early) retirement because the idea of returning to a classroom to teach to curriculum standards I didn’t believe in and administering tests that are a travesty were unpalatable options for me. I left teaching and public education prematurely because I was burned out after four years as President of the Virginia Education Association. In part, I left because I knew I didn’t have the physical energy or stamina to take on teaching middle school English. I hadn’t taught English since 1980! Mostly, I retired early because I didn’t have any desire to participate in a system that I believe is counter to what is in the best interest of children.

So I quit–I took early retirement–and I now help others leave the profession sooner than they had thought they would so that they can discover what other career paths they can pursue instead.

My new mission in life is to help others accomplish what I have managed to accomplish for myself:  find work that plays to their natural strengths, their talents, and their natural abilities.

Work shouldn’t feel like such a chore.

Are you experiencing teacher burnout? Not sure? Download the 7 signs of teacher burnout by clicking on the button below.

For the 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout Click Here

For those who are not teachers, here is why you should care about the epidemic of teacher burnout that is rampant and affecting teachers all over the country. If they all decide to quit, and the ones who are eligible all retire in the next few years, who will be left to teach?

Charter schools have become the rage, but they haven’t delivered in spite of all the hype about them. I don’t believe they are the answer.

And even if charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools were suddenly to provide the answer, they cannot possibly address all of the needs of all of the children who currently have a barely surviving public system to support them.

I worry about the future of public education in the country, but I am dedicated to the individual teachers who call me asking for my help. On a macro level, I think we are about to experience a teacher shortage of epic proportions. I worry that no one seems to care.

On a micro level, however, life is too short to spend it doing something you don’t enjoy…no matter what it is.

If you are a teacher experiencing the pain of teacher burnout and stress, here is a “cheat sheet” of suggestions for how you might better manage the stress of your current situation. Click on the button below:

For the 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout Click Here (1)

Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, or just a citizen with a passing interest in what is happening in the world, I believe you should care about what is happening to our teachers and in our nation’s schools. The grinding nature of the job has become too much for too many, and they are looking for a way to escape. I am here to help them, but I also worry about the vacuum that is being left in the wake of their leaving.

We should all care about what is happening to public education in our country…before it is too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Headed Toward a Teacher Shortage?

Bureaucrats at state levels of government have been warning of an impending teacher shortage for years. As they eye the bubble of teachers who belong to the Baby Boom generation, the numbers are self-evident. As Baby Boomers retire from teaching and take off to reinvent themselves for new endeavors (like I did), the number of new teachers in the proverbial pipeline doesn’t come close to matching the number who are leaving.

In this article posted in Huffington PostAFT President, Randi Weingarten,  argues the case for how a teacher shortage could become a national crisis.

I would suggest that the corporate reformers and members of the anti-union coalition around the country will cheer at the notion that their tactics are working. Legislators who have been offering anti-public school legislation based on ALEC‘s boilerplate templates won’t be sad to consider a teacher shortage, either. Instead of seeing a teacher shortage as a national crisis, they will see it as a win in their column and a way to further their agenda which is, I believe, to dismantle public education altogether. They will then be able to turn education over to charter schools (both public and private), private and parochial schools, and virtual schools that will assist the home-school movement.

Those in the media won’t be sad to see a teacher shortage either. Many in the mainstream media have deliberately and consistently contributed to the deterioration of the teaching profession as a profession for over 30 years, starting with their promotion of the negative narrative first presented in The Nation at Risk Report (1983).

I have been a public school advocate my entire adult life. I am a product of public school education and earned two masters degrees and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. From 2008-2012, I was the President of the Virginia Education Association. I went to battle with the then Governor and then Republican-led legislature during those years, trying to explain why due process for teachers doesn’t translate to tenure (a job for life). Most of the laws that were passed during that time were counter to what was in the best interest of public education and the children who attend our public schools. Additionally, the attack on teachers was vicious and personal. It was all part of a larger agenda which is to discredit public school teachers so that public schools can be dismantled and turned over to corporate entities who want to cash in on the charter school movement.

I left that position worn out and weary from the battle. The idea of returning to the classroom to teach again made me want to weep from weariness. I knew I was too physically and emotionally exhausted to do justice to my prospective students. I decided that for me, returning to what I feared would be an environment centered on testing more than teaching was a bridge I could not cross. So I left. Since then I have been coaching and counseling teachers who are burnt out and ready to find something else to do with their lives.

Teaching has ceased to be a truly professional endeavor. Teaching has become more about following a script, keeping up with the pacing guide, and testing for the sake of testing. It is ridiculous, and everyone involved knows it, but the political will to fix the systemic problems and address the underlying social issues that contribute to the problems in education leave teachers feeling helpless.

Teachers feel beaten down by what has happened to them and their profession. Some are still fighting the good fight, and I cheer them on because I want them to win.

Many are leaving the profession in frustration, however. They leave because, in spite of the fact that they still love their students, they hate all the other trappings of teaching in today’s data-driven environment.

I admit that I feel guilty on occasion about offering assistance to those who want to leave. I detest the idea that their leaving might speed up the dismantling of public education. I know in my heart, however, that life is just too short to do anything you no longer enjoy. I also believe that children deserve to have teachers who want to be with them. As a result, I want to help those teachers who no longer want to teach to figure out a way to do something else. Do I believe there is an impending teacher shortage? Yes. Does that make me sad? Absolutely. Do I believe that we can fix the systemic problems that are causing teachers to leave? I am not sure.

In case you still care about public education as a public good, whether you are a teacher, a parent or just an interested citizen, if public education is to survive, more people need to be willing to speak up for and defend it. So far that hasn’t happened, but I haven’t given up hope completely. Just this past weekend, a group of dedicated teachers gathered for a conference of members of the Network for Public Education. I am also aware of a group on Facebook of which I am a proud member:  BATS for “Badass Teachers.”

Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Julian Vasquez Heilig are just a few high-profile individuals who continue to advocate for public education and public school teachers. They, along with leaders in each of the teachers’ unions, the NEA and theAFT, are working hard to try to carry the message that we should not give up on public education. I am so glad they are still fighting.

At the same time, however, I get calls from teachers who are asking for my help. “I still love my kids and if I could just teach, I would be happy to stay. I can’t stand all the other stuff that goes with it, though. The endless testing, the meaningless paperwork, and administrators who no longer support me have made it an untenable job. I can’t do it anymore.”

If there is an impending teacher shortage, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.

 

 

A Message to Teachers about Going Back to School Tomorrow

Christmas memories are quickly fading, and New Year’s resolutions may have already been dropped. Tomorrow, after a long holiday hiatus, it will be time to return to work.

For my teacher friends who will be returning to school routines, I hope you are looking forward to Monday morning with joyful anticipation. You have missed your kids, perhaps, and you can’t wait to hear them regale you with all of their holiday stories of gifts gotten and trips taken.

For some of you, however, you may be experiencing a sense of dread. When I taught and worked as an elementary school librarian, I remember some of my colleagues talking about how they cried on the Sunday night before coming in on Monday.

I couldn’t relate because I loved my job as the school librarian. I knew then, as I know today, that being the media specialist was the best job in the building, and I never took it for granted. I did look forward to coming back after summer vacations and holidays and weekends. I know, however, that some of my colleagues did not share my enthusiasm because they talked about it with me.

It always bothered me to hear of my colleagues’ misery. Some were new mothers, and leaving their babies at the daycare or even with Grandma was excruciatingly painful for them. Others had just stopped enjoying their work but didn’t know what to do about it.

I suspect that the percentage of teachers who dread going to school tomorrow has increased dramatically since my days as a librarian. I suspect this based on the calls and emails I get from teachers who have lost their enthusiasm for teaching.

For many teachers, the fun has been sucked out of the profession by reformers and politicians who never taught a day in their lives but think they know how classrooms should be run. Add to the misery the countless number of tasks that have been added to the plates of every teacher in the country while nothing has ever been removed. (This is a pet peeve of mine, and I complained of it in my last speech before the Virginia Board of Education members in 2012 when I was still President of the Virginia Education Association from 2008-2012.)

Unless you have been a teacher or you have lived with one, and you have personally witnessed the work hours they put in at home, you can’t possibly appreciate the amount of work the average teacher puts into their job when they are not at work. Oh, I know people in business often bring work home at night. I also know that a lot of that work stays in the briefcase all night and is never touched. The work can be caught up the next day, after all.

Not so if you are are a schoolteacher. You have kids who are counting on you to bring them your A-game every single day, and every single period of every single day. You don’t have the luxury of slacking off if you have papers to grade or lesson plans that haven’t been created but must be ready for the next day.

Teachers have pressures to which people in business cannot relate, and they should stop trying. On top of that, if I hear one more time that teachers have it “easy” because they “only” work from 7:30 to 2:30 and they get three months “off for the summer,” I might scream.

Most teachers not only have the massive workload to which I have referred, but many of them have to take 2nd jobs to pay the rent, keep food on the table, buy gas for the car, and pay back massive student loans. Those loans will be anchors around their necks for decades to come because getting a college education today has become so oppressively expensive. But that is another topic for another day.

My first year as a teacher, after paying rent and utilities and budgeting enough for gas so I could get back and forth from work, I had $20 left for food. My roommate’s mom kept me fed, and the $20 went toward buying yogurt cups that I could get for 4 for $1 on sale. Occasionally, my dad would offer a few extra dollars to get me through the month.

I eventually took on additional jobs to supplement my income. Now, I ask you…who does that on a routine basis besides teachers and maybe actors? And why do teachers do it?

I will tell you why. It is because, for the most part, they love teaching. In fact, many of them never considered ever doing anything else!

Now, none of them went into teaching expecting to get rich. They did go into it thinking they could make ends meet, however.

Like other people, teachers want to get married and have children of their own. They want to buy homes and pay for college tuition for their own children. They would like to be able to take the occasional vacation, and they want to be able to live without fear of going broke every time the car breaks down.

As a Career Transition Coach specializing in teachers who are experiencing job burnout, I hear this refrain all of the time: “I love my kids, but it is all of the other stuff I can’t bear doing anymore.”

“All of the other stuff “is “teacher code” for all of the additional paperwork that is now being required of teachers everywhere. For the most part, nobody seems to care about the extra paperwork, but is required for the purpose of holding teachers more “accountable.”

“All the other stuff” is also “teacher code” for being evaluated using rubrics that make no sense, yet these rubrics tie a teacher’s evaluation to the achievement of their students with no regard for where those students live or their readiness for school.

A popular saying among top policymakers has been, “poverty is no excuse” for lagging achievement in our country. The fact is, however, that lawmakers and policymakers completely ignore the fact that sometimes children don’t do well in school because of factors over which their teachers have no direct control.

Some children come to school hungry. That in and of itself is a travesty given that we live in the richest nation on the planet, but it is no less a fact.

Other students don’t do well in school because they can’t see. They need glasses, but optometrists and glasses are not covered by most insurance policies. Still other children may be having trouble concentrating because they have a toothache, but they have no access to a dentist.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

So, to my teacher friends and colleagues:  I hope you will be able to start 2016 with a renewed enthusiasm for your profession. If that feels impossible, however, don’t lose hope. Your education, talent, and experience CAN be used in many other endeavors.

I never want to encourage anyone who still loves teaching out of the profession. I do, however, want to help those for whom teaching has lost its luster. I want them to know that they can find help with identifying their transferable skills, writing their resumes, getting their LinkedIn profiles optimized and setting them on course for a career that may be a better fit for them than teaching has turned out to be.

If you are a teacher who wants to hear more about that, let me know. Sign up for a complimentary 30-minute consultation. Let’s talk.

 

Did You Get to See This?

This is a link (see below) to an article that Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has offered. It actually came out several months ago (February 5, 2015) but it popped up on my Facebook page recently, and I shared it with my Facebook peeps just a few days ago. It occurs to me that it belongs here.

The article’s title is “Why Teachers Can’t Have ‘Normal’ Lives.”

Take a look and let me know what you think.

/www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/05/why-teachers-cant-have-normal-lives/

If you are a teacher who is feeling overwhelmed with work, check out this checklist on teacher burnout.

For more information, head on over to my website at TeachersinTransition.CoachesConsole.com.

Send the Consultants Home and Let the Teachers Teach

You Are FiredPlease find an article that was posted today in Education Week that caught my eye and made me realize that it has been far too long since I last offered something here. The article is entitled, “Cast Out Consultants:  Give Teachers More Input.” I have rephrased the sentiment, but it remains the same. “Send the Consultants Home and Let the Teachers Teach.”

For too long, now, consultants have been given full rein over classroom teachers, and the teachers have been in the terrible predicament of not wanting to be found insubordinate and therefore without a job while doing things that they know from everything they ever learned about teaching that what the consultants are telling them to do is ludicrous.

This is not a new phenomenon, unfortunately. The author of the article that I am sharing says he has been teaching for seven years. I was in public education for 37 years, and while it simply got worse, the last people who were ever consulted about what should be done to improve education in our country have been the teachers.

The criticism, of course, is that teachers are members of the union and the union doesn’t care about kids. WRONG. The union cares about that which the members care. That would include learning environments since students’ learning environments are also teachers’ environments. Teachers also care about making a professional salary commensurate with the level of their education and the level of responsibility that they have on the job. That isn’t a union thing. That is just, well…a thing that all professionals have in common. For some reason junior executives are eligible to make six figure salaries project managing the production of widgets, but teachers with a similar educational background and responsible for the teaching and learning of whole generations of young people get what’s left over AFTER the administrators have negotiated their salaries, and the consultants have taken their part of the budget, and the testing companies get their piece of the action. Given the shrinking pie, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if the public actually trusted the teachers to TEACH and paid a salary that would attract the best and the brightest (as opposed to making it something that is only attractive to Teach for America “missionaries” looking to pad their resumes for law school or administrative positions) candidates to the teaching force, we could actually have teachers being paid what they are worth and we could have buildings that are safe and secure as well as nurturing and welcoming.

I also get that the author of this piece isn’t interested in hearing from anyone like me who has been out of the classroom for six years already. He wants to hear from colleagues who are facing the same day-to-day challenges he has to face. He doesn’t want to hear how it “should” work. He wants to hear about what WORKS.

Our entire educational system has been hijacked by people who may have had good intentions in the beginning, and these days, I even question their intentions. The testing companies have nothing to gain from having teachers take over teaching and testing, now do they? That’s why they send lobbyists to convince the policy makers who know nothing other than what they read in the papers about our “failing schools” and they convince said policy makers that the solution to the “crisis” facing America today is that we need more testing.

A good teacher will tell you that is hogwash, however. What we need are good teachers who are incentivized to stay in the classroom and who are receiving the support they need with an increasingly needy population of children.

I am hearing horror stories of kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders who are biting, kicking, and hitting their teachers, causing real bodily harm and creating untenable learning environments. This is increasingly an issue with which consultants can’t help. Parents need to help. Parents need to learn that they need to parent. They aren’t their children’s best friend. They aren’t their buddy. They are their parent! They need to teach respect for authority…not blind respect but respect for their teacher so that their teacher can TEACH.

Teachers need more support. They need increased financial remuneration. It is time to take the limited resources that school divisions have been given and reallocate them. Send the consultants home. Re-think the crazy idea that kindergarteners need to be tested instead of nurtured through their formative years, and let’s let the teachers teach. It’s way past time.

 

 

 

To Amanda Ripley: A Second TIME Article on Rhee is Long Overdue

I wish we weren’t so fixated on Michelle Rhee, but it is important that the problems she caused and the chaos she created not be forgotten or glossed over given that she has done so much damage and yet has managed to get so much support–unwarranted as it may have been–from very powerful and very high profile people including Oprah Winfrey who should have known better given her professed love for teachers. Michelle Rhee has become the face for all that is wrong with education “reform.” She represents the money that has been used to elect anti-education candidates under the guise of being a “Democrat.” She has provided cover for hedge fund moguls as they invest in charter schools that are taking support away from the public schools that our communities should have access to. She has muddied up the entire debate about teacher evaluation and teacher accountability and student achievement with bogus arguments that offer no evidence to support them, yet she has had a love affair with the mainstream media that is hard for me to understand. What is the attraction? How has she done it? Now, as she passes the proverbial baton to Campbell Brown and her crowd, where does that leave us? I can only pray that while Mercedes Schneider and Diane Ravitch and others continue to beat the drumbeat that someone will finally hear the message. Like the guy behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, Michelle Rhee is a poser. The main reason to keep her in the limelight is so that she can be toppled from her pedestal and the media–and the public–and the politicians who have supported her and promoted her bad policies–finally understand the harm that has been done and we begin to try work our way out of the mess that she has created.

Why Teachers Don’t Like Arne Duncan

Both of the national teachers’ unions, NEA and AFT, have declared their official, collective frustration and disapproval of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This article succinctly articulates the reasons for their frustration and outlines the false and misleading narrative that Mr.Duncan has been using ever since he stepped into the role of Secretary of Education. He routinely speaks of the “problem” of our public schools in terms of their “low expectations,” specifically as it pertains to the “fact” that we are “tolerating” poverty as an excuse for poor achievement. Poverty isn’t a reason for the disparity between the children who are achieving and those who are not, says Duncan and his cronies at the USDOE. It’s an excuse trumped up by teachers who are also not up to par, at least according to Mr. Duncan. If they were, the US would be at the top of the heap with regard to performance on international tests that compare one nation to another. There are many reasons why Mr. Duncan’s narrative doesn’t work. This summary points out the fallacies in the narrative. Please feel free to share.Fgrade