For those who love children, teaching is a dream job. The ability to become a role model for kids from a variety of backgrounds is what draws many to teaching in the first place. However, since the beginning of 2020, more than a half-million teachers across the country have left the profession. Even in 2022, districts saw an increase of teachers leaving in the middle of the school year and a much higher loss of seasoned teachers. Teacher job satisfaction is also the lowest it has been in 50 years, with less than half of educators reporting that the stress of their job is “worth it”. There are a multitude of factors that have led to this mass teacher exodus and higher rate of dissatisfaction, most of which were brought to light due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The devaluing of teachers
When schools shut down because of the pandemic and parents had to start being more active in young children’s education, many began to see how difficult it was to teach a first grade student how to write or how to teach algebra to a middle schooler. Appreciation for teachers increased tremendously and people even advocated for an increase in teacher pay. However, this newfound appreciation of teachers did not last long.
Qorsho Hassan, the 2020 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, was an elementary school teacher when she quit teaching in June 2022. When asked why she left the profession she seemed to be so passionate about, she stated: “The breaking point for me was continuously being devalued. And not feeling like I could teach the truth and meet my scholars where they were.”
Additionally, students in education programs around the country are being told by peers, parents, and even other teachers that they are “too smart” or “too talented” to enter a career with such low pay and high stress. Unfortunately, even before one officially becomes a teacher, the profession has little respect.
Asked to Do Too Much
Despite how little they seem to be valued, teachers are also asked to do tasks that they are not trained to handle and don’t feel qualified for. This was the breaking point for 13 year teacher Jessica Garay, who left in September 2021. She stated, “Mostly, I left the classroom because I felt an urgency to help students make up one or more years of growth overall, but I was not supported in that mission. The school I taught at was more concerned with students’ social emotional learning [SEL], which is critical work right now. That said, I strongly believe that I am not qualified for that. I don’t have the skills to successfully teach SEL to children, and I wasn’t trained in the SEL curriculum at all.”
High school English teacher Jessyca Mathews detailed her feelings in a powerful open letter to America. Even before the pandemic, she recounts the different “roles” she had to play as a teacher: a parent, a nurse, a psychiatrist, a superhero, a receptionist, an amoeba, and a soldier. Yet, she never felt quite like a teacher. She also expresses her frustrations in being asked to “create a successful new way of delivering education in less than a month” once school was moved to an online format because of the pandemic. Despite this seemingly impossible task, people were still unhappy with the quality of online education.
A Lack of Support
In order to turn their classroom into a comfortable place of learning for their students, teachers are forced to spend their own hard-earned money on decorations, supplies, and learning materials. On average, teachers spend $750 out of pocket on classroom supplies every year. This increased even more during the 2020-2021 school year, when teachers spent an additional average of $160 out of pocket for personal protective equipment (PPE) alone, since it was not provided to them in most cases. Even with this, 95% of teachers surveyed across the country said that their classroom budget will still not meet the needs of their students, though it varies by state and district.
Additionally, non-native English learners make up around 20% of the K-12 student population in California. Yet, “more than 60% of the teachers said their materials do not have cultural relevance and over 55% said their materials do not even moderately support them in assessing English learners’ language development”. In order to meet this need, many teachers are creating their own resources, which utilizes their own time and money. To no fault of their own, many teachers also do not feel as if they have the training, knowledge, or support to effectively teach students who are learning English as a second language.
Teachers have little freedom
Over the last few decades, many teachers have felt as if they had less freedom and professional autonomy. These feelings only increased in the mid-2010s, when teacher evaluation programs and performance-pay systems became more heavily implemented. Performance-pay systems essentially tie teachers’ wages to how well their students are doing on standardized tests. Yet, student performance on standardized tests is not the sole indicator of teacher performance. Factors such as learning disabilities, school district, and parental support also play fundamental roles.
As much as teachers just want to teach and inspire their students, many have found it difficult to make any sort of impact as they have very little say in what their students are learning. This is why eight-year kindergarten teacher, Alcides Marte, quit teaching in June 2022. He said, “Teaching was a field I went into out of humility, to give back to my community. I went in with my heart, but then after a while I just realized that it’s not all that it’s cooked up to be. You really don’t have as much power as you’re told that you do. There are people above me that are making the rules for a population that they’re vastly out of touch with.” Educational lawmakers and those who create curriculum need to understand that different communities and populations have different needs that may not be met by the standards already in place. Teachers deserve more freedom to cater to the needs of their students. After all, teachers are the ones who are most attuned to the individual academic needs of their students.
What should be done?
One of the best ways to help educators, and hopefully decrease teacher burnout, is by creating a culture of support. Due to all of the factors mentioned above, many teachers have reported feeling anxious, overwhelmed, sad, and fearful. Forbes Magazine suggests four ways that people can better support teachers:
- Providing emotional support
- Showing appreciation
- Give teachers a voice
- Invest in teachers’ knowledge and careers
In order to foster this culture of support, the best thing citizens can do is advocate for institutional change when the opportunity arises. This includes voting for lawmakers who aspire to support teachers in the above ways, taking part in demonstrations, or simply doing general activism that will make people more aware of this issue. By better supporting teachers financially, professionally, and emotionally, they will be better equipped and motivated to educate young minds. If we take care of teachers, we will be taking care of students in turn.