A Teacher's Journal

Personal observations about life in general and teaching in particular.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Great Teachers Quit...

I just finished reading Katy Farber's new book, "Why Great Teacher's Quit...and How we Might Stop the Exodus."

I have to say that I wanted to read the book because I have seen so many excellent teachers choose to leave and... I've been feeling the pressure myself. I was hoping for affirmation, inspiration and perhaps some hope to see me through the next few years. However, I have at least ten years to teach before I can consider retirement....do I have it in me? We shall see.

I was happy to see that I am not the only teacher who resents the lack of breaks (bathroom and otherwise) during our day. We are "ON DUTY" from the time we enter the school until the time we leave, and for those of us who live in the community where we teach, we are never "OFF duty." Bathroom breaks are intermittent at best, no wonder so many teachers have medical problems. We rarely have a "free" lunch period (and who decides what is free anyway?) Often we have students in our room while we are trying to eat our lunch...or waiting in the hall for us to finish so they can come in and get help.

How many professionals do you know who are interrupted after business hours while shopping, eating out or attending some community function? If you've ever wondered what it felt like to be a celebrity, teachers have a unique perspective on that, and let me tell you that there are times that I would happily walk away from it all. I am frequently stopped at stores to discuss little Johnny's progress or behavior while I'm trying to finish my own shopping. In fact, I have had diligent mothers follow me into public restrooms to talk about their child! There the time that I went to dinner with my husband and his parents when we were interupted by an obnoxious parent who sat down at our table (uninvited) and proceeded to rant about how his child was mistreated at our school. (His child had recently been suspended for beating up another student.) There are many other incidents that I could share but I'm sure you get the idea.

It's so hard to describe the burn out to folks who have no idea what we teachers "do" in a day, week, month, or even a year. I wondered, before I picked up the book, if anyone else would ever be brave enough to shine the light on our work load. I'm happy to say that Ms. Farber did an excellent job of stating the facts without getting into the "he said/she said" quagmire.

Many folks have no idea just how much time teachers put into their careers, if I have to hear again, "I wish I got to work from 8-3 every day;" or "I wish I had the WHOLE summer off." I just may scream in sheer frustration. It is that mentality, that assumption that we have it so easy, that builds dissatisfaction and contributes a great deal to the high burn out rate in the education (teaching) field. How about..."Well, you knew what you were getting into when you chose it!" Really? So because I love children and teaching, I should just deal with the poor pay, the obnoxious parents, the disrespect, etc.?

I am happy to say that I now teach middle school reading/language so my day isn't quite as hectic as if I were still teaching fifth grade (or any self contained class for that matter.) Although teaching middle school presents other challenges, I truly love my kids and their age group.

So for those who have some idea, and those who have no idea, bear with me while I walk you through my day. (I apologize profusely for those who know EXACTLY what we do every day, feel free to skip ahead!)

6 am (well, let's be realistic, lately it's closer to 6:45) Get up, have a cup of coffee, prepare for the day.
Check my school email, respond as appropriate, flag those that I must deal with but don't have the time for at that moment.
Arrive at school, prepare for the day, discuss issues with administration re:my students, pick up attendance folder, check on paperwork that must be filed/completed, meet students in the gym for morning meeting, get everyone respectfully in line and paying attention to the announcement/pledge.
Start class with attendance, lunch count, morning meeting re: class expectations for the day, assignment due dates, and upcoming events.
Teach, manage etc. while grading papers, assisting with problems, listening to students read.
In between classes, monitor passing time and bathrooms. Watch for horseplay, bullying, PDAs, and make sure that only one child at a time is in the restroom.
Lunch, eating at desk while working on paperwork, grading, writing IEPs or checking email. (Sometimes I rebel and play a computer game or check my other email accounts. I might even squeeze out a few minutes to pay a bill online or check my bank balance!) Oh yes, and run to the bathroom!
After lunch I meet my students at the door, at help them prepare for class. My "prep time" is the last class of the day this is really only the second time I have a chance to use the restroom. Generally, I am able to use this time to work on my IEPs, grading and preparing for the next day's lessons. Sometimes I end up covering for another teacher though and this means that any work I had planned to complete during that 50 minute period must go home with me.

At the end of the day, I am usually up front helping to monitor behavior and watching the students load/leave on the buses.
After school meetings for whole staff occur once a week, sometimes lasting an hour, most of the time an hour and a half. If I have an IEP meeting, I must prepare for the meeting, collect the paperwork, round up the other teachers, host the meeting, take notes and prepare a copy for the parents to take home with them. These meetings can last an hour or two, depending on what needs to be addressed. I try to limit them to an hour but sometimes it's just not possible.
After meetings I pack up my remaining papers, IEPs that aren't done, and my lesson planning book and leave for the day. (No, I'm not done.)

Arriving at home I spend an hour or so relaxing and playing online before grabbing my bag and starting the tedious task of reviewing papers, grading and preparing for the next day. Often I spend two or three hours at home working however there have been times when it's been five or six hours. I discovered though that I could not maintain that level and I have trained myself to stop after three hours.
By the time I finally call it a day I have put in 10-12 hours. If I have a carnival, report cards, open house, celebration, conferences, assembly, or IEP meeting to plan for that time can quickly climb to 15-18 hours.

On weekends I try to avoid doing any "school"work, however, I have only two days to catch up on my housework, laundry, floors, etc. Must be taken care of unfortunately the cleaning fairies don't come to my house. Sunday evening I have learned to set aside a couple of hours to prepare for the next week, wrap up any grades, lessons, etc. to help ease the work load for the following week.

Have I reached "burn out"? I don't know. However, lately I have found myself falling asleep in my chair when I get home from school. Often that little 20-30 minute nap is enough to keep me going until 10:30 or 11:00 when I stumble down the hall to bed. It is getting more and more difficult to get out of bed at 6 am.

Granted I've had some health problems the last couple of years, dealing with major surgery twice in three years has definitely affected my stress levels. Part of the problem? Possibly. I just keep telling myself that anyone who works would have had to balance recovery time/work time so who am I to complain?

Educational conferences, professional development, additional classes for recertification must be completed at some point and I prefer to do those things over the summer. I have found that trying to attend a conference during the school year increases my stress (and my work) because in order to go, I must prepare my class, develop lessons that the substitute can handle, make copies of any worksheets or instructions before I go and when I return I must deal with all of the grading, and deal with behavior problems that occured while I was gone to ensure that the next time I have to be absent they remember that there will be consequences for misbehavior when I return.

My point is: If you are a teacher or administrator, even a staff member at a school your life is constantly under the microscope of public approval and your reputation is up for discussion every minute of every day. You never know when something is going to crop up and someone will take aim at your career. This is a stressful job that is highly under-rated, unappreciated and unfunded. If I burn out it will not be because I lack the enthusiasm to teach or stop caring about the children and the mark I can make on the future, it will be because I can no longer deal with the stress and heartache of constantly defending my career while fending off misguided attacks against my character and professionalism.

I just wonder sometimes, how much longer I can maintain this level of committment and would I be happy teaching with anything less? I don't know if I have an answer to that yet.


  • At 3:53 AM , Anonymous EC Team said...

    Hi, I totally agree, we're loosing to many quality teachers due to these circumstances, especially in the UK.

  • At 1:16 PM , Anonymous Dalton Jackson said...

    Add to this the fact that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down - teachers who try to hold their students accountable for certain academic or behavioral standards are more likely to draw negative attention from parents, and by extension, the administration.

    Meanwhile, instructors who assign nothing but worksheets and let their students get away with anything and everything are able to fly under the radar, go home at 3:15, and in general shortchange the kids in exchange for a pay check.

    The net effect is extremely demoralizing, and was a contributing factor to my departure from the profession.


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