The Cycle that Keeps Many Teachers Stuck

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The career of teaching is unique in that it is one of the only jobs of which I know that allows you to complete a  full cycle, experience a period of rest and practically complete separation from the job, and then the start of a brand new cycle each year. If there is any job like that other than that of a college professor, I don’t know of it.

The school year in most parts of the country starts around August or September and ends in May or June, allowing students and teachers alike a full 6-8 weeks away before coming back and starting the cycle again.

The cycle that is embedded in the typical school calendar is part of what keeps teachers stuck–sometimes for years. They hang on from vacation to vacation. And certain specific emotions accompany each part of the year.

For example, at the beginning of the year, there is a certain sense of anticipation that is almost palpable. In fact, for a few weeks before the first day of school, the excitement mounts as school supplies appear on store shelves and preparation for the new year goes into high gear. Teachers and students alike enjoy the first day of school and the ensuing first few weeks. Eventually, however, the honeymoon period wears off as the routine of day-to-day school activities get under way.

In general, teachers are just as excited as the kids the first few weeks of school. If it is a “good year,” the teacher will count his or her blessings, and the year will proceed in without much incident.

If it is a “bad year,” however, that is another story. What constitutes a “bad year?” Teachers will know the answer to this question, but for those who haven’t experienced it, let me recount what a “bad year” was like for me back when I was starting my 2nd year of teaching.

There are 180 school days in the school year for my state not including teacher workdays and holidays. One hundred and eighty days of students.

I started my countdown on day #179.

I remember telling myself as I drove into my apartment complex after the 2nd day of school, “Only 178 more days.” That was 40 years ago…I remember it like it was yesterday.

Why was it a “bad year?” I didn’t have “bad” kids. In fact, on paper, they should have been a dream class! They were all bright with IQ’s hovering around 120, and they were all from nice, middle-class families. In fact, they were all in the band, so they had that in common. They were also incredibly poorly behaved with little or no impulse control, even for 6th graders.

I had a set of twins who were so similar that the only way I was able to tell them apart was the color of their tennis shoes. One of them forged his mom’s signature on a homework assignment…so I had to call Dad about that. Dad didn’t question that the twins were a handful. What he questioned was whether I had the experience I needed to manage them. (He was right to wonder given my relative inexperience.)

Another one of my students that year was like the Charlie Brown character, “Pig Pen.” He traveled with a cloud of chaos and clutter around him all of the time. His desk always looked like it had just exploded papers from who knows where. Maneuvering around his desk was impossible because his books, book bag, coat…and everything else he owned…was strewn in the aisles around him. He was a sweet kid, but I bet today wherever he is, he has left a trail of clutter in his wake. He could not seem to help himself.

I had another student who would occasionally sit on the floor and rock back and forth, hitting his head on the radiator. Nothing would console him when he was in one of these moods, and class would come to a screeching halt while I tried lamely to calm his ragged nerves over whatever the distress of the moment happened to be.

Another student…Richard…never stopped talking! He was extremely good-natured, likable, and entertaining…he is probably very successful today and a leader somewhere…but he was physically unable to restrain himself from talking…so I put him next to me at my desk so I could keep him close to me and away from his neighbors. It didn’t work.

I had yet another student in that class who was such a contrarian that if I had said the sky was blue, he would have wanted to argue that it was green instead.

The point is that this class never gelled into the highly functioning group I wanted them to be…the way the class I had the year before had or the way the group I had the year after did. There was always some drama going on with them, and teaching them English and Language Arts was more than a little challenging.

It didn’t help that the teacher they had before me went out on sick leave around the middle of October, and their long-term sub was too easy going and didn’t have the classroom management skills needed for the group. Neither did I given that I was still new and still learning. But that is what I mean by a “bad year.”

During a “bad year,” things just don’t as well as you might like. What keeps most teachers going is that for every “bad year” they might have, they will usually have a couple of “good years.” At least that was the case for me. I had a great group the year before and the year after. In all of my 33 years as a practitioner, I only had that one really “bad year.”

That doesn’t mean that the rest of my professional career was perfect, however. I was often frustrated with the low pay and the lack of respect I felt people had for my chosen profession. At one point, I even sought out a career counselor to investigate other types of work that I might do. Finding nothing suitable, I decided to go for my Master’s degree instead. If I was going to stay in education, I thought I should at least maximize my earnings.

Each year for the full 33 years of my career, I experienced the same cycle of excitement about the first of the year, sometimes feeling tired and frustrated as early as October and early November, hoping for a long weekend over the Thanksgiving break. I decided that you can do almost anything no matter how tired or sick or frustrated you are for the few weeks between Thanksgiving and the Winter Break. The New Year represented another fresh start, and then we would get into the slog of February and early March. I would start to look forward to Spring Break. Then, toward the end of my career, we started the testing season around the time of Spring Break. Testing season consumes all else. In my last school, the anxiety around the spring state tests was palpable. The school had been an at-risk school at one point, and each year, the fear was that the kids wouldn’t make the cut this year. I was there for eight years, and that fear never went away.

Once we got through the testing season, it was downhill to summer vacation. And that is the cycle that teachers typically experience.

This is also the cycle that I believe keeps teachers stuck in a profession that may or may not serve them any longer. Matthew Boomhower sums it all up pretty well in his blog post, “Emotional Stages of a Teacher’s Career.”

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The point is that when I talk with teachers who are feeling the painful symptoms of burnout by the time they are into year 9 (or 18)–they can relate to this cycle. It is the cycle that has kept them coming back year after year until they decide they just can’t do it anymore.

If you are suffering from those symptoms of burnout (and if you aren’t sure, you should down the free checklist of 7 signs of teacher burnout here), you should acknowledge them and consider if you can continue in the profession or if it is time to consider alternatives.

If you aren’t sure, you should check out my presentation on the 7 Signs of Teacher Burnout. You might find the information useful. I hope so.

So, if you can relate to this cycle, let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Let me acknowledge that I know not all teachers feel the symptoms of burnout, and I am glad that is the case. Our students need and deserve teachers who want to work with them and be with them. I am concerned about the teacher who has hit the point of no return and is having such a miserable time of it that all he/she can think any more is “there must be more that I can do than this.”

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.

 

 

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.

I Am Back!

I have been so busy with other writing and other activity that I have neglected my blog here. My apologies to anyone who was following this particular blog…I am going to be more active here moving forward. Thank you for your patience.

In my defense, I have been busy with numerous activities along with some life altering events.

For example, in April I launched my eBook, Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed:  A Guide to Managing Your Stress and Developing a Greater Sense of Work-Life Balance. It is FREE, so feel free to go to the link to download it.

About the same time I launched the eBook, however, my mom got sick. I spent the better part of 25 days either with her in the hospital or running back and forth from home to her (a 3-hour drive one way) to keep up with the basics of running a business and taking care of things at my home.

She passed away on May 15. Frankly, nothing has been the same since. I know it is one of those things that happens to each of us if we live long enough. We lose our parents, and in her case, she was 86 years old and had had a good life. She had not been well for a while, however, and I know that she is in a better place, and she is not suffering which is a relief.

In spite of the fact that she is gone, and in spite of the fact that my dad died in an accident 29 years ago, I still think of each of them every day.

I am always mindful of the lessons they taught me. I am always wondering if they would be proud of the work I am doing today. I think they would be…but I miss them nevertheless.

I have also been writing a lot for an ezine called Careerealism. You can find some of my writing there if you like.

I have been working a lot lately as a career transition coach. I specialize in working with teachers who are experiencing symptoms of burnout, but I also work with mid-career professionals who have found themselves stuck in their job search. I offer resume review and LinkedIn help for anyone who needs to make sure they are on the right track in their personal job search.

If you happen to be a teacher who is suffering from job burnout (a teacher in distress), check out this new checklist I just released. Answer any one of the 7 questions about job burnout “yes” and you may need to talk to me.

Check it out. The checklist is available here. Download it and check it out. If you ARE suffering from job burnout, contact me for a complimentary consultation. Sign up for that here.

I  am sorry I have been away so long. I am glad to be back. Let me know what is going on with you.

Until next time.

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.