Why Good Teachers Quit
contributed by Kay Bisaillon, Teacher
My friend is an amazing teacher.
She is an amazing teacher who is ready to quit the job she has loved for 20 years. She was honored just a few years ago as one of the best teachers in her area. She cares deeply about her students. These students come from some of the poorest living conditions in the state she lives in. Many of these students come to school every day for the stability she brings to their lives. She goes in early every morning and stays late almost every day. She brings home hours of work each night. But why do good teachers quit?
Well, it’s complicated.
She carefully prepares her lessons with engaging learning and interactivity for her students. She is one of those teachers who has an interactive whiteboard and the students touch the board as often as she does. She explores lessons in real and meaningful ways and empowers learning in her classroom.
So what’s the problem? The problem is she is approaching her breaking point with her teaching career. She is ready to leave teaching completely. She is tired of trying so hard, in so many ways, and still feeling as if she is losing the battle. She is losing faith that she is and can make a difference.
She’s Not Given Time to Adjust to the Newest Teaching Styles
She was recently admonished for asking a question to the class and calling on a single student to answer. She was told this could and would not be done anymore. She was supposed to “ask the question and allow students to discuss with each other the answer.” She explained she had been applying this new approach and did find it valuable. She also explained the previous style of asking and answering a question to a single student was a style she had used for many years but was making a conscious effort to stop using the approach.
She was told to “not try, but do…” and I am being polite in my recount of this episode. Why do good teachers quit? This is all symptomatic of the larger issue. My friend and I both agree the new approach has a lot to offer the students. Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to fully convert to a new teaching style within weeks of the start of the school year? Is she not allowed time to adjust to a new style?
She left that discussion with her administration feeling inadequate, deflated, and disrespected.
She’s Swimming in Work at Home and At School
She leaves her house at 7 am on most mornings. She teaches until 3 pm and stays at school to do paperwork, cleaning, and preparing for the next day until 5:30-6 pm. She usually does a few hours of grading and lesson plan preparation each evening. If you add an errand on the way home, and dinner, and general housekeeping, the day is a long and exhausting one. She feels as if she is losing ground each day and trying to make it up the next. It is a vicious cycle.
She’s Struggling to Learn Each New Program Introduced
This year she has had multiple new programs to learn: a new grade book program, a new online lesson planning program, and a new reading series. She admits her confidence in her technical abilities is lacking but she tries. She attends every mandatory and voluntary information session offered. She spends weekends reading and watching the how-to videos. She asks questions of co-workers and tries to get as comfortable as she can with these new processes. She is learning it all, but it takes time and patience…and more time. This time comes from her personal life.
She will eventually learn it and get comfortable with it all, but it does come at an expense. Why do teachers quit? It’s not difficult to see how easy it is to become discouraged and overwhelmed.
She Does Not Feel Valued
All of the above would not feel so deflating if she felt valued. If the extra time she invested felt appreciated by her administration. Instead, the push is to do more, do it faster, improve the student’s grades and, more importantly, their standardized test scores. She must not only improve those test scores but document every little piece of data along the way. (See 10 Ways Data Can Sabotage Your Teaching.)
She is exhausted by the demands of her time and energy and doesn’t know how much more she has to give.
Her Family Misses Her
I mentioned my friend has been a classroom teacher for 20+ years. She has three grown children and her home is slowly becoming an empty nest. Her husband misses her. He is ready to have his wife home in the evenings at a reasonable time. He is ready to spend some time at home with his wife when she isn’t preoccupied with grading papers or preparing lessons or worrying about completing those things before the next school day. Her grown children are worried because their mother is working all the time.
Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
My friend is required to keep a binder for, well, just about everything. I can’t tell you how many binders, sections, topics, titles, charts, graphs and forms I have heard her discuss. I would bet she has a binder to help her keep her required binders organized! In all seriousness, the complexity and sheer numbers required in that type of record-keeping and data recording is painstakingly detailed and mind-numbing. She is frustrated and overwhelmed by it.
My friend gets up every day and still does an amazing job. She doesn’t do it for the pay or the administration…she does it because her students need her. Her students come from an economically depressed area. Many of her students come to school hungry and need the joy she shares. She knows she makes a difference to their day, their week, their year, and their life. She will continue focusing on this one simple reason until all of the other ones become too much for her to handle.
I know my friend is not the only good teacher who feels this way. We talk often and I try to be the sounding board she needs. She leans on co-workers for support. I know teacher burnout is a common issue among very good educators. This is what worries me. There are amazing teachers, young and old, veterans and rookies, who are starting to eye the exit door. These teachers feel overworked, underpaid, undervalued, deflated, and emotionally and physically exhausted.
I only hope the one good reason continues to outweigh the others long enough to keep those good teachers teaching.
*previously published at TeachThought.com