Where Will All the Teachers Go?
Nobody ever teaches for the money; they teach in spite of the money. Trust me on this one. I have a B.A. from one of this country’s leading liberal arts colleges (thank you, Colgate University) along with an M.A. from the the University of Vermont, and in 20-plus years in education, I have never taken home more than $50k/year in salary. Oh, I’ve had great jobs at some of the nation’s most prestigious secondary institutions and lived in expensive places such as Vail and Washington, D.C., but that’s the financial zenith of my professional earning power. Fifty-fucking-thousand dollars. I feel fairly confident suggesting that very few of my former college friends, or any college graduates really, can say they’ve ever earned less. So what is it then that draws and keeps teachers in the field of education? It must come down to other, more intrinsic rewards than the mere conveyance of financial remuneration. Indeed, I once had a boss I admired deeply suggest to us that it comes down to validation. Now, perhaps that was just an excuse for giving me such a paltry salary, but to tell you the truth, I genuinely think he was onto something. And if so, we better start giving teachers a whole hell of a lot more validation because they sure as heck aren’t getting it right now, and we are about to have a full-fledged teacher shortage crisis on our hands.
There are a number of studies out there right now, including ones from the NEA and EdWeek Research Center, suggesting that just over half of American teachers are seriously contemplating leaving the profession. Are you kidding me? That means about 5 million teachers are set to walk through that door in June and never come back. That’s a serious problem, folks. Just who are we going to get to take $50k/year to fill all those jobs? Given that the ratio of new hires to openings fell to .59 this past year, apparently the answer is “absolutely no-one”.
So just why are so many teachers leaving the profession? Well, I will leave others to focus on some of the more pragmatic, extrinsic factors that are precipitating this potential mass exodus. Yes, teacher shortages are a vicious cycle where staffing issues further exacerbate the workload and burnout teachers are already facing. Yes, mask mandates and distance learning have been complex obstacles taxing already-stressed educators. Yes, school shootings have become an increasingly common phenomenon in our nation’s schools while police officers get hazard pay but teachers still do not. And yes, national test scores dipped precipitously during the pandemic, suggesting that teachers are now left to play a perpetual game of catch-up as they engage in the Sisyphean quest of making up all the learning students missed during the last two years. But I want to focus on that more intrinsic part of the equation- that validation thing my boss brought up many years ago. Because while most of those other items can hopefully be ascribed to temporary conditions that can be ameliorated over time, I am deeply concerned that the sense of validation that kept so many teachers working in the field of education, despite the clear financial ramifications, has eroded and is never coming back.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Critical Race Theory has become a dog whistle to conservative voters who falsely believe that public schools are being used by school boards to ram liberal political agendas down the throats of their children without their consent. The result of this, quite sadly, has been the undermining of the teaching profession in two separate, but related, capacities. The first of these has been the election of conservative school boards who have come in and immediately instituted policies that interfere with teachers doing their best work in educating children. These uniformed blowhards who generally have about as much knowledge regarding proper governance in the field of education as I do of European-model carburetors, have not only thrown the baby out with the bath water, all in the name of protecting children from the truths of systemic racism and gender identity, they have pissed in the tub while doing so. They are dictating to teachers not just what they can or cannot teach, but telling educators who have a fidelity to truth, that they must engage in a willful whitewashing of American history.
But with these boards have come an emboldening of the general public to unload their personal political perspectives on teachers who deserve better than to be barraged with their unhinged rants. Listen, I know I engage in unhinged rants on a weekly basis, but that’s just me writing to a general audience who can always choose to ignore this nonsense anyways. But more and more, teachers are become the unwitting target of politicized invectives. 14% of teachers say that they have become the victim of vocal criticisms based on their teachings regarding the topic of race. After a staged teacher walkout in the wake of the conservative school board illegally meeting to fire the district’s superintendent, many teachers in Douglas County, Colorado were met with the following signs of harassment placed on their windshields while they were in the building teaching children:
Now, as an English teacher, I can tell you that this constitutes some poorly-written, country bumpkin ass crap, but if their intention was to invalidate and demean teachers in both a specific and generalized context, I will tip my hat to them and say, Well done”, because that is simply unbelievably degrading stuff right there. Yes, this is just one oxygen-deprived moron spewing indiscriminate vitriol, but it is representative of the unfettered attacks, both overt and surreptitious, that teachers have been subjected to in recent years. And with each and every one of them goes a piece of the validation that makes teachers teach.
And once that’s up and left, so too will the teachers. Who in their right minds will tolerate crappy pay, mass shootings, apathetic and entitled students, even more entitled parents, and long hours without breaks due to staffing shortages- all to get told that they suck and aren’t appreciated? So of course they are going to leave in droves, and like the girlfriend who has finally had enough of your crap, they won’t be returning. Oh, like King George in Hamilton, we can sit there singing that they’ll be back, but in the end, we will be the spurned lover wishing we had finally appreciated them before it was too late.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com