Unhappy And Exhausted Teachers: How And Why Everyone Is Affected

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Written By: Robyn Shulman, M.Ed.

“Teaching is not a profession. It is a never-ending entry-level vocation, divorced from foundational understandings of training, accountability, and advancement. If we are to enact meaningful reform, we must rescue teaching from its status as vocation and volunteerism, and recast it as a profession of rigor, creativity, and unlimited impact.”

-From “Teaching in the 408”

According to Michele McNeil of EdWeek: “Not since the battles over school desegregation has the debate about public education been so intense and polarized, observers say, for rarely before has an institution that historically is slow to change been forced to deal with so much change at once.”

All levels of education, from preschool through higher education have been affected in some manner. Institutions across America are dealing with rapid changes, new teaching demands, the Common Core, shocking assessment policies, and levels of technology not seen in years.

Taking a look at the big data for this site specifically, the 3 most common phrases typed in via Google that bring readers to ED News Daily are the following:

  • Why did I become a teacher
  • Companies that hire teachers
  • How teachers can make more money

Combining these 3 simple phrases brings me to the conclusion that we have many teachers who are unhappy, looking for work outside the classroom, lacking funds, and are ready to leave the field all together. As a teacher and writer myself, I am personally aware of the reasons why effective educators leave the classroom. There are vast concerns across the scale, however, the bottom line is the following: if we have teachers all over America who are unhappy in their roles, we have  students who are suffering in both academic and non-academic ways. For these issues, numbers, statistics, blue ribbons and test scores deem themselves meaningless and do not provide a true picture of what is taking place daily across classrooms in America. If our teachers do not want to be in the classroom, it is only natural for students to feel this resentment and displaced animosity. This situation begs to ask the question: Why would students want to be in the classroom if their teachers do not want to be there?

As education leaders, we set the tone, the mood, and deliver the expectations in the classroom on a daily basis. From the minute our kids walk into the classroom, the energy shared from the teacher sets the tone of the day, either positive or negative. Our non-verbal language sends messages in which we are not aware, and thus, travels to each and every student. I remember when I first started teaching, and saw the cover of the book, The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher, by Harry Wong. Quite vividly, a few pages into the book, I remember the image of Harry standing at the front door of his classroom, stressing a power smile and a handshake with each student. His smile never left my mind. Could I smile like that daily? I wasn’t sure at the time.

Facts about the education profession:

  • Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009, from 59% who were very satisfied to 44% who are very satisfied, the lowest level in over 20 years.
  • Teachers with lower job satisfaction are more likely to report that in the last year they have seen increases in: average class size (70% vs. 53%), students and families needing health or social services  (70% vs. 56%), students coming to school hungry (40% vs. 30%), and more students leaving.
  • One third (33 percent) of current public school teachers do not expect to be teaching in K-12 schools five years from now.
  • Nearly 50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

Reasons why teachers leave the profession:

  • New teachers cannot afford to pay back loans and sustain a middle class lifestyle
  • Poor working conditions
  • School bureaucracy is too difficult to deal with
  • NCLB and required test scores are deemed impossible to meet
  • Lack of support to meet the various needs of students (ESL, special education, gifted, etc.)
  • Lack of collaboration among teachers; feeling isolated
  • Compounding discipline problems with students
  • Underpaid and underfunded for resources
  • Simply exhausted with the responsibilities, lack of respect, and feeling that their job is not considered a profession, but rather a volunteer type of vocation without growth

Education has changed across every scale. However, as a teacher myself, it was the only profession where I knew I was truly making a difference. The gifts our students bring every day can never be replaced. Teaching is a gift, an honor, and should be treated as such.

I want to thank my former students (who are now college graduates), as they made coming to work every day special.

Did you leave the profession? Do you plan to stay? Why or why not?

 

Sources:

(2013, May 7). EdWeek. Rifts Deepen Over Direction of Ed. Policy in U.S. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/05/08/30debate_ep.h32.html

MetLife Survey of American Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/contributions/foundation/american-teacher/MetLife-Teacher-Survey-2011.pdf

National Center for Education Profile of Teachers 2011. Retrieved from http://www.ncei.com/Profile_Teachers_US_2011.pdf

National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). Retrieved from http://www.nctaf.org/NCTAFWhoWillTeach.pdf.pdf

 

 

 


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30 thoughts on “Unhappy And Exhausted Teachers: How And Why Everyone Is Affected

  1. Pingback: Links for a January Monday | A Quiet Simple Life

  2. kathy

    I just want to extend a BIG thank you and God bless you. In November, I quit my job. I was told in a round about way that it was me that was ineffective in teaching kids from my school district.Since then, I have been working in a day care with toddlers. At first I felt inferior about my position, however as of yesterday, I came to the conclusion that I am enjoying my job because I don’t have to worry about state assessment scores, or other “bureacratic” rigga ma roll. I get to make lessons on what crafts and activities can I do with these kiddos to strengthen their minds as well as language/fine and gross motor skills?

    I have been reading more and more that it wasn’t me. It is the teaching profession that is becomng ineffective because of all the “balls” the teachers are asked to balance on their plate. More and more is added and teachers are expected to balance everything and do a perfect job. I continue to talk with my fellow teachers from my district and even those who have more time in as a teacher are starting to feel the way I did the beginning of this school year. They talk with their supervisors/directors on how they as an individual feel about their job. The response from their supervisor surprises them when they say go ahead and look elsewhere instead of what can we do to help you not feel burdened

  3. EduNewsDaily

    Tom,

    That was the most beautiful statement I have ever read, especially coming from someone who has lived their life to save others. I want to salute you for all you do, and for recognizing and paying tribute to what we do. You are a true inspiration.
    Thank you and happy and healthy new year to you and your family.

  4. Tom

    When I was an Army battalion commander I thought I had the most complex job in the world, responsible for hundreds of soldiers and their families 24 hours a day. I was also a Boy Scout Troop Scoutmaster, so my weekends were basically gone. Then, my soldiers asked to volunteer to sponsor an elementary school near our post. I got talked into volunteering for just 1.5 hours a week to cover for a 3rd grade teacher while she got a break. I had NO idea what I was in for! That was the most physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding 90 minutes of my week. I would leave there absolutely exhausted. The teacher seemed to take it all in stride, although I have no idea how she possibly did it. I just wanted to salute all the teachers out there and wish them all the best. Thank you.

  5. Jeri Walker-Bickett

    I started writing honest book reviews and it’s gradually been taking off from there. I may or may not end up seeking an internship. I would not be able to make the transition though if it weren’t for my husband getting a much better job where it doesn’t cost anything to have me on his health insurance.

  6. Carrie

    An old African proverb says “If there’s no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm”… it sounds like you worked to hard for the wrong reasons and devalued and over stressed yourself. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience, but it sounds like it led you to something you enjoy. I’ve had my share of bad experiences in teaching. I’m not leaving.

  7. Jeri Walker-Bickett

    I’ve reflected on my experience to no end, and am simply convinced enough change cannot take place in the school system to ever make me feel valued as a teacher. I also mastered the art of saying no as I found prepping for three English courses to me more than enough to try to keep up with. Teaching is just too stressful. I don’t think many who take up the profession have any idea how stressful it can be. I know I certainly didn’t ;)

  8. Anne Weaver

    We need teachers like you! I taught for 35 years, I wonder how I did what I did. You are lucky your spouse understands; mine never did.

    My students and the love they gave me back for teaching them, kept me teaching. I did things as much as possible my way. I cut corners with unnecessary paper work. I worked late every night and every weekend.

    There is a site which helps teachers with teaching resources: TpT.
    There are so many freebies for every grade level. You can find great activities to power points. Not having to make every lesson can help teachers. Now principals need to provide teachers with the needed materials to make resources. Good luck teaching!

    Anne Weaver

  9. MHamilton

    I teach English Language Arts to 8th graders in the Bronx. Am in my 8th year of teaching – career switch through the New York City Teaching Fellows Program. Now in my late 40′s, this is the most demanding job I have every tackled – and yet, it is very rewarding when you can see a difference in the students you teach. I am staying with the job, but it definitely is very frustrating – because of the ridiculous, ever-changing demands of administration (city level and state level) which do NOT serve the students well, the lack of a clear focus or vision for the school from the administration, and the continual attack from politicians who for self-serving reasons want to blame poor education on teachers. I am blessed to have a spouse who understands that teaching for me is a justice issue, and who puts up with my long hours, and even helps me buy books and paper, etc for my classroom. I agree with the previous commenter that the way to stay in the profession is to simply do my thing as much as possible and not let the political pressures get to me.

  10. Robben Wainer

    Teaching is also a character trait. In that we are able to model our prior knowledge, so that it may be of value to others. While conducting discussion groups and assigning learning tasks that require a level of interest in other people., I feel the way to avoid instructional burnout, is not to get carried away with a quality of a state of affairs that tormenst us. We must find these common denominators that give Teaching the permission to draw from prior knowledge and experience. The effort will not win out if we are convinced we are fighting a losing battle.

  11. Carrie

    It’s easier to fool people than it is to convince them they were fooled. You should look up systemic change and reflect on it to see if it applied to you. Did you have a high GPA in college? – it happens to the bright ones…. Is it possible that you needed to learn the power of saying “NO”?

  12. Carrie

    How many teachers left the field because of systemic change? And do they even know they are leaving the field because of systemic change, or do they cough it up to being bombarded & disrespected ?

  13. EduNewsDaily

    Thank you to everyone who has left a comment. These are all such valid and interesting points. @elle, I understand your frustration. Being an adjunct is seriously an issue that needs to be addressed. I was once asked to design, launch, market and teach an entire new program as an ADJUNCT! I love higher education, and it has been so special in my life. However, I really do think there needs to be a serious discussion and major change in higher education.

  14. Jeri Walker-Bickett

    I left and do not plan on returning. Teachers can and do make a lot of difference, but in the end, I decided it just wasn’t worth all the personal sacrifice and my mental well-being.

  15. elle

    I have been both a tenured-track professor and an adjunct instructor, and in both experiences, the unrealistic workload and the offensively low compensation is egregiously disproportionate.

    I work about 65-75 hours a week, don’t sleep much, teach a five course load (Composition courses), rarely have time to eat (lost 7 pounds this semester), and can’t even pay 1/2 of my bills on my $1150 a month salary (no benefits). Thankfully, I have a two-income household, but with this work schedule and low pay, there is no way my husband and I can start a family of our own.

    Therefore, after eleven years teaching at the college-level and still $65K in graduate school financial aid debt, I have also made the decision to permanently leave the profession. I officially resigned last week. This profession (and public education) is going down in flames; it’s very unfortunate. Thank you for reading, and my best wishes to fellow educators.

  16. Ana Maria Fores Tamayo

    I agree with you that students do make teaching special. That is why it is imperative that, at least in higher education, faculty take back education and demand justice. Right now, 1 million out of the 1 and 1/2 million instructors in higher ed are working on a contingency basis, not earning a living wage, most without healthcare. And this threatens to get worse. If university administration does not change this equation, education as we know it in the United States is going to fall. It is already broken. Look at how many students are already suffering because of rising tuitions, yet little of that goes to the faculty: we see administration burgeoning, sports facilities over the top, construction all over to attract students, but once they get there, what happens to their education? They now pay over 70% of their faculty an average of $2400 per course. In the south, that is a lot less. And where is the respect? Where is the collaboration? Where is the camaraderie between colleagues? Please sign my petition for adjunct justice, and share it with everyone you know: http://signon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts.fb1?source=c.fb&r_by=426534

  17. pathfinder2000

    I am a National Board Certified Teacher and have received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. I recently retired (sadly) to insure the benefits I had accrued that were being threatened to be lost with each negotiated new contract and to try to protect the pending loss of jobs of two less veteran teachers. I remain professionally active in a leadership capacity and enjoy supporting teachers through workshops and hopefully influencing policy. Although I love working at this level, I love working with students more and miss the classroom and students. The issues presented are as stated and it is a very sad state of affairs. It takes a very concerted effort to remain in the classroom. You need a resilient skin, a high level of emotional capacity and you must learn how to live frugally. In our country, teachers are afforded little respect in general by the public. Unfortunately, teachers are in general not very good advocates for their profession. However, it is extremely difficult to be a good advocate within the realm of the teaching world. Tenure is a saving grace but not considered as such by the public. Good teachers make teaching look easy and as a result everyone thinks they can teach. It is so important to keep the classroom door open and consistently engage the parents and community into what is being done in the classroom. It is easy to judge something from the outside but if you pull the public into your classroom, they will begin to develop an understanding and appreciation for what you do. Working with the school administration is another key factor — they can make the difference in night and day. They need to be there for their teachers, giving them the room to breathe and create and grow — AND, they need to supervise and assist those developing teachers in need to help them become effective or make decisions to change careers.

    When classes, teachers and administrators are overloaded it is a lose-lose-lose situation. Suggestions for the road to improvement of this worsening situation are too extensive to even begin to address here. In any event, if it happens, it will be a slow uphill battle all the way… but one that absolutely needs to be addressed and worked on for the sake of our children, country and society on Earth.

  18. Web Hutchins

    Robyn – You hit the nail on the head in every way. I see the best usually leave the quickest. We have a new evaluation system here in Washington- total fealty to every minute and step of your lesson plan is required and must be displayed in the ever more frequent observations. On the second day of school this year the new principal “caught” me showing Michelle Obama’s superb Convention Night speech – it was not on my lesson plan nor on my whiteboard (where the plans have to be copied anew every day) – and I was in trouble. She sternly questioned my decision making, repeatedly asked why it was not on the white board activity list, and asked “what does her speech have to do with Language Arts?” I was dumbfounded and outraged – I thought about responding “have you ever heard of rhetoric?” but thought better of it because even if she had it is extremely unlikely she would know what it means.

    This is my 23rd year of very successful teaching (and coaching, and writing about education, etc.) and this is the treatment that new “bottom line” admins are giving all of us – things have really changed the last five years for the worse. My remedy is civics – if we get kids and teachers all talking about civic issues and political topics we can build the capital to have large scale change in our education system. Everyone knows whats wrong but noone has the guts to stand up and change things. Check out the Civics for All Initiative at http://www.civicsforall.org . Thanks and Peace, Web Hutchins, Seattle

  19. EduNewsDaily

    Hi Tanassia,
    I am sorry to hear about your story. However, you must do what is right for you and your family. A teacher who is stressed out and needs to make a change is a strong teacher. I believe that teachers who leave the profession when they cannot sustain their lives and/or do not enjoy coming to school are truly putting the kids first. I wish you the best of luck on your new endeavors, and I am sure you will bring all of the amazing traits with you to your next job.

  20. Tanassia

    Hi Robyn,

    I have been an educator or the past 41/2 years and I have made the decision that the time has come for me to move on. The situation is untenable; I am in need of a new vehicle and my salary cannot even afford me to make the down payment to purchase a new one.

    I have made plans and am taking steps to leave by the summer of 2013. I love teaching but I need something more that can help to sustain me.

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