Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Mass Exodus of Educators Is Real, And It Isn't Why You Think

Remember at the start of Covid, when kids around the country were having to do school from home, and frazzled parents everywhere said, "Dear teachers, we're so sorry we didn't appreciate you! We'll give you whatever you want! Anything at all! Just please take our kids back"? Yeah, I don't really remember that either. It was rather a short-lived phase. As soon as the kids were back in school, parents forgot all about the stress of home-schooling. And honestly, it wasn't even home-schooling. Parents didn't need to curate curriculum, ensuring standards were met. They didn't need to differentiate instruction, or really give any instruction at all. Parents didn't need to collect data, make sure IEPs were met, or administer assessments while trying to ascertain if cheating was going on from afar. They didn't need to monitor kids working from home while also teaching to the students physically in their classrooms, attempting to give adequate attention to both groups, but failing because it's a literally impossible task. Parents had to simply monitor their kids and make sure they were logging into classes and doing work (something they should be doing anyway.)

But here we are. And teachers are leaving the profession in droves. According to the National Education Association survey of its members, "a staggering 55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned. This represents a significant increase from 37 percent in August and is true for educators regardless of age or years teaching, driving buses, or serving meals to students."

It's a vicious circle. As more and more educators leave, those who stay are left to pick up the slack. In an already trying year, staff is constantly being forced to combine classes, give up planning periods to cover colleagues who are sick, and take on more responsibility as people leave and aren't replaced. At some point, those who stick around meet their breaking points, and join the ranks of those who have left the field. And so the circle goes round and round.

What does that really look like? On any given day, a school can easily have 12 teachers out, another 2 teachers who left and haven't been replaced yet, and 3 administrators out. And that school will have 4 substitutes show up. So where do the other 10 classes of students go? Schools double and triple up classes and put them in the media center, the cafeteria, the gym. School health assistants, bookkeepers, librarians, and clerks are pulled from their responsibilities to sub in classes. Students lose yet more instructional time when they're already suffering educational deficits, and the teachers sticking it out and staying are held accountable for these losses.

It's not just the teachers who are leaving. It's all support staff, and this includes bus drivers. Like teachers, bus drivers are having to double-up, packing students 3 to a seat while driving combined routes. Students are oftentimes stuck at school for an hour after dismissal before a bus arrives to take them home. My nephews' schools had to pivot back to home-learning because there simply weren't enough bus drivers to take the students to school.

But that's not the main reason people are leaving. 

I have teacher friends with masters degrees who say if it weren't for their spouses, they don't know where they could live because they don't make enough to afford housing on their own. There's something extremely sad about individuals with masters degrees who can't afford the rent by themselves. And every year, they have to fight to get any kind of raise, or to keep the districts from raising their health insurance, or cutting coverage. If we entrust our future generations to teachers and expect them to turn out self-sustaining, educated, productive members of society, we need to give them the tools to do that.

But that's not even the main reason people are leaving.

According to my own unscientific survey of my coworkers, we're leaving because of the ridiculous amount of disruptive and disrespectful behavior from students with absolutely no accountability. Aside from the unruly behavior and disruption, there are the students with zero motivation to learn. I call them the TikTok kids. Their attention span is the length of a Tik Tok video and then they're "bored." So many teachers spend an insane amount of time dealing with behavior issues, and trying to coax kids to just do. their. work. that they don't have time to teach the students who are actually there to learn. It is absolutely draining. I know I personally leave work, mentally exhausted. And there are so very many parents that are just checked out. Those are the good ones. The others condone their child's abominable behavior choices, and try to place the blame on the teacher.

Those not in education might not understand the kind of behavior teachers are dealing with. And of course, this varies from elementary to middle to high school, and from school to school, district to district, and state to state. But I think I can say with absolute certainty that student behavior has gotten much worse over the years, no matter where you are. Here are a couple recent comments I got from teacher friends around the country:

I had a student walk in to class, shout, "'Sup b*tches?!" then proceed to jump on top of a desk and hop from desktop to desktop across the classroom.

I called a student in to my class so I could give her help making up some missing assignments in a class she's failing. She was so mad that I took her out of PE to help her do the work she'd been blowing off. She whipped out her phone, called her mom right then and there in class, and angrily stated, "This lady is making me work instead of going to PE!" From across the room, I could hear her mom's outraged voice through the phone say, "Let me talk to that lady. That's disrespectful!" Wait what? I'm the one being disrespectful here??

I had a student come in already angry.  I asked him to pick his head up and listen to the instructions (after offering all kinds of "cool down" time and options.)  Well, that set him off.  He stood up, flipped my table (others were sitting at it as well), cussed me out including saying that he was going to beat my a**, etc.  The SRO (school resource officer)  had to come and physically restrain him to calm him down and get him out. He was sent back to my class.  Same day.  Same class period. ...with a Dum Dum in his mouth from the SRO. That was almost a career change day for me.

The student behavior coupled with a lack of support from parents and/or administration, all while teachers are stretched thin because they're so short-staffed is what is driving educators away from the profession.

Education was already this big snowball, gathering mass as it rolled along toward a cliff. Covid pushed it over, and now it's on a downhill path, gaining momentum and girth at a staggering rate. But never fear, the powers-that-be are armed and shooting Nerf darts at the mammoth problem cannonballing out of control so I'm sure that will divert its crash course in no time. Either that, or that statistic of 55% of educators thinking of leaving will turn into 55% gone. Poof.


msprimadonna67 said...

Spot on...we've been feeling all of this in my district as well. The weight of it all can just be daunting. Demoralizing. Depressing. We have been saying for a long time that the cracks and fissures were there before Covid, but the pandemic (and more specifically, districts' handling of the pandemic) just broke an already unsustainable system.

Ernie said...

This is sad. I believe you are correct and it is a situation desperately in need of a fix. My daughter was contemplating studying teaching in college to teach english in high school. Another woman I know who is a librarian in a school said she thought going into education was a big mistake. My daughter is doing business (had nothing to do with this woman's insight). Oh gosh- the tic tok syndrome . . . makes me want to pull my hair out.

angie said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I'm a 37 year veteran teacher. I've had difficult years but this year has been hard with outrageous behaviors ( 5 year olds) and their parents blaming Covid. I have a feeling this will be the excuse for the rest of their lives. Oh, this week I've had kids taking a look at their school lunch and just pitching it in the trash. I sent out an email to parents that students can bring their lunch if they want. I get a super long email from a parent telling me I shouldn't force feed children and they shouldn't have to "clean their plate". Plus, I think she age shamed me. I'm tired of this insanity and am hoping to retire in a year.

Cindy said...

My daughter works at a middle school here in WA state and it's happening here too. So many teachers gone, little to no subs, the librarian and office staff have to fill in for teachers. Our church opened a home school co-op for families who didn't want to send their kids back to public school after covid but we've had to temporarily close. The parents don't show up for their shifts and the students behavior is out of control. I agree with your analogy of a big snowball going over a cliff...

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