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It is the end of February, and many teachers in the United States are patting themselves on the back for making it through another day, another week, another month and gearing up on this Sunday afternoon for the next day, week, month. Teaching has always been a challenging profession for many reasons, but the past few years have taken a toll. It started with the Covid year, or probably before that, but things are not ok in the education system in our country today, and we’re losing talented, smart, and inspiring teachers every day because of it.

There are a lot of good things about the school and district in which I work. My building principals are supportive, and they trust us to do our jobs. I’m allowed to make decisions about how I teach my language arts classes, and so teaching is still an art in my building. I’ve heard stories of schools where every lesson is scripted, and every teacher is expected to teach the same thing on the same day in the same way. That is not teaching, in my opinion. A robot could do that. In my building, teachers are not robots. They are professionals and are treated as such, and the students benefit because of that.

The best thing about my building are the people with whom I get to work each day. We have a school full of inspiring teachers who show up each day and do the very best they can for their students. Every time I get the chance to socialize with other teachers on our staff, I realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by such smart and caring individuals every day, and our students are lucky too.

The parents in the community where I live are mostly supportive. I’ve heard nightmare stories about the ones who aren’t, but for the most part, in my experience, most parents show up for their kids and teachers. Whenever my team of teachers sends out a sign-up sheet for parents to bring snacks or other items to school for some event, the sheet gets filled up in minutes, and we get parents asking if there is anything else they can bring since they still want to contribute.

My students are mostly hardworking, kind, and care about their education. There are, of course, challenging students, but the vast majority are good kids who are there to learn.

While my school and school district have many things that are so positive about it, there are problems too, and those problems become more pronounced as budgets get cut and newest educational reforms start to take hold of the school systems. Some good changes come about, but some bad ideas are implemented as well. And it can all be exhausting for teachers.

So, what are the problems causing teachers to leave or to not pursue teaching as a profession at all?

  1. Pay. Most public schools are terribly underfunded. Providing the best possible free education to all students is not an inexpensive endeavor. When funding is not a priority, neither are teacher salaries. A starting teacher salary in our community does not even come close to being sufficient for a new teacher with rent and student loans to pay. We lose some teachers because they cannot afford to live here on a beginning teacher salary.
  2. Time. I have 105 students who I see once a day, and about 30 that I see twice a day because I have them for two classes. I am responsible for planning the lessons for two different subjects, grading assignments, communicating with parents, teaching my lessons, communicating with other teachers, communicating with administrators, dealing with any and all behavior issues, mentoring other teachers, making accommodations for students with special needs, and all of this with one 45-minute prep time per day. In most professions, a person in charge of 105 other people would have at least one assistant. Not in the teaching profession. Most of the time, we’re a one-man show.
  3. Extra Duties. In addition to my regular teaching duties, I have lunch duty twice a week because there is no funding to hire regular lunch help. I am also sometimes asked to provide in-service sessions for teachers to attend, all within my regular teaching day. We also have extra meetings where we are being asked to realign the standards for our school, our state, our country.
  4. Picking up the slack. We can’t seem to find enough people who want to stay on as custodians and maintenance workers in our school. The floor of my classroom hasn’t been mopped in months. When I can’t take it anymore, I do it. I’ve purchased hand brooms and other cleaning supplies for my classroom and put the students to work helping with the cleaning which isn’t bad for them to do, but just add that to the list of my duties.
  5. Parenting. A growing number of students are not being parented at home. They are showing up at school (if they show up) without supplies, without sleep, and without proper nutrition. They stay up all night on devices, they buy an energy drink at the gas station before getting to school, and while they have every electronic device available, they have no pencils and don’t have anyone who will replenish their supply. There is a drug problem in our community, and some parents are just checked out because they, too, spend all their time on devices.
  6. Lack of discipline. Restorative justice. That was the beginning of it. “Consequences don’t work,” they said. It’s a nice idea. Talk to the students to get them to behave. Give them opportunities to repair relationships when they have hurt someone. Provide them with resources to get the help they need. Keep them at school even if they should be suspended because if you send them home, they will just get the day off and parents won’t parent. Except that there are no resources being provided. Teachers are being asked to supervise In School Suspension where the most troubled students are sent rather than sending them home to have their parents parent them. It’s too much to ask of our teachers on top of everything else.
  7. Anxiety and excuses. During Covid, some people loved staying home so much that they never wanted to come back out into the wide world. We have an epidemic of anxiety now because many students would much rather stay home and play video games than come to school. And their parents let them because it’s just easier that way. I’m not downplaying real anxiety, but some of this anxiety would be solved if parents simply told their kids no. My daughter started getting anxiety in middle school. Every morning, she had a “stomach ache.” If I would have let her stay home, the problem would have worsened. I made her go to school after making sure there wasn’t something more specific to the problem. She was mad at me at first. I was a terrible parent for making her go when she was “sick,” but she faced her fear of going to school and the problem went away, and she found her way back to enjoying school.
  8. Lack of respect. This week at lunch duty, I had to intervene because a student was chucking a basketball through the cafeteria which was unsafe and not allowed. When I got the two students to separate who were wrestling over the basketball, I said they couldn’t throw the basketball inside. As I walked away, one student made a “Wha, wha,” noise at me, and so I needed to continue the situation. I told him he would be in lunch detention the next day for disrespect, and he informed me that I couldn’t put him in lunch detention. Well, I could, and I did, but that whole situation frustrated me right before I had to run up to my classroom to start my next class. But before I could do that, I had to fill out an office referral so the disrespectful student who I didn’t know, could have a consequence. The whole “consequences don’t work” idea doesn’t make sense to me when it comes to disrespectful behavior. I don’t believe disrespect should be tolerated. It destroys morale and the school environment.

This is just scratching the surface of why there is a teacher shortage in our country. And it’s not just teachers. It is difficult to find support staff these days too, and nurses, counselors, specialists, etcetera. The way public schools are being run without adequate funding and resources is running teachers and other staff ragged. It is not sustainable. Something must change. It is so important for the wellbeing of our children. I think acknowledging problems is a start.

Even with all the problems, there are so many rewards to the teaching profession, and it is always the center of why we choose to teach. Our students. We will continue to show up for them.