Do I have your attention?
I apologize for the click-bait title, but it worked didn’t it? You’re reading and hopefully you’ll stay with me on this long train-journey of thought.
Where do I even begin?
I haven’t written in so long that I don’t know how to start saying the flood of words contained in my heart, soul, and mind. I don’t even know which direction to go, only that I believe firmly in the root of my being that the future of our children is at stake.
Let’s start at the beginning – the beginning of education that is. Why, oh why, do we keep talking in circles? Why do we keep discovering things to improve education, only to give those improvements to a select few? Why do we talk out of both sides of our mouths? Why do all of our theories and half-baked ideas never translate into actual change on the ground? And why are we punishing those who are toiling, literally, in the trenches?
First, let’s start with the comparisons. I was taught in recovery not to compare myself to others, as that leads to ingratitude, and ingratitude leads to discontent, which leads eventually back to the substance I was trying to free myself from. Second, I was taught in therapy not to compare my “insides” to others’ “outsides.” That is, don’t compare what I have in my own personal life (my insides) to what it seems people have on the outside of their life. When I am jealous of the writer who has more views and likes than I do, I don’t where that writer has been, and what their journey has looked like to get to that many views. I have no idea what they have experienced, learned, gained, or sacrificed to get to that place. I only know my own story, my own work and sacrifices, my own gains and losses. I cannot sit here and get butt-hurt and decide to give up just because my profile doesn’t look like theirs. After I have put in the work, gone through the decisions, then I can decide whether it’s worth it for me to continue. But even then, I cannot play the comparison game because it will only lead to ruin, as mentioned above.
So, again, no comparisons.
We cannot call upon the test scores and graduation rates and work force stats of other countries, because we are not other countries. We can’t even compare ourselves to other Westernized, Industrialized, “Colonized” countries. Let’s just start with Canada. Have you seen their taxes? Have you taken a moment to look at the options beyond public school that they provide? And then England and Finland. England – taxes, and Finland – socialism. Do you really want to pay the taxes that these other countries pay in order to get the education outcomes that they seemingly have? And I say seemingly because even the numbers don’t tell the stories that are under the surface. We’re not comparing apples to apples here. Finland’s “Grand” system is based on hundreds of years of a socialist-based country. They BEGAN their education system with the exact mind set that we are trying to AVOID.
These places that we are using to point to our own insufficiency have stories that we are not taking into consideration. America would NEVER pay the amount of taxes that England pays in order to pay for the kind of education system we claim to want. Remember “taxation without representation”? Battles over taxes are literally built into our nation’s DNA. And how about the philosophies behind the education systems in Scandinavia and some central European countries? They are based off of political and social ideas that America has literally fought against since it’s conception.
We can’t have our cake and eat it too. (Which, by the way, is such a weird phrase because you would think that ‘having’ cake would mean ‘eating’ it. I’ll have to look into the origin of that phrase. Anyway, you know what I mean.)
Second, education reform. Do I open this can of worms? Yes, yes I do.
Let’s put it this way: Imagine a trench. Put people, children, parents, communities, teachers, in that trench, then use those people as a stair step to climb onto the highest part of the mound you’ve created. Then, get out a bull horn and start shouting into it across No-Man’s Land to the people standing on their children and communities and teachers at the other side and then just continue shouting at each other until some, just a few, manage to wriggle themselves out of the pile on which on set your platform. Then, you can point to the people who, by their own efforts and resources, were able to get free, and call yourself a success. That’s what education reform is right now.
America, do you even realize the amount of shit you are piling on top of the very people who are trying to get you out of that trench? Back to the comparisons to other countries. Not only is our funding and philosophy drastically different from those countries, but the way we treat our teachers is light years away from how they treat their teachers.
You want to change education? Stop moving people out of a crumbling building, stop painting the exterior and planting roses in the front garden, and start rebuilding the structure from the foundation. This means teachers. You can’t have education without teachers. So, why are teachers being vilified? Do you realize, America, what will happen when you don’t have teachers? All of your fights about equity, funding, language, STEM, CRT, gender, books, testing, private vouchers, bad teachers, good teachers, merit pay, and curriculum won’t matter because you won’t have anyone left to stand in a room and try to bring some sense into your children’s lives.
Do you even know the crisis that education is facing? Do you even realize where we are going? I’ve been in education over 20 years. I have wanted to quit many times, but the commitment to the children always brings me back. This is despite experiencing, among other things:
- Accusation of harm toward those whom I have sworn to protect and teach
- Pay cuts and inequitable pay for my years of service and education (Just to put it out there, at the time of this writing, I make $59,500 a year with 21 years in my career and a master’s degree. And I live in Colorado with a mortgage of $2,300.)
- Reprimands from administrators for seeking counseling and mental health services for students
- Complaints and shunning from fellow educators for “stepping out of the bounds” of my role (i.e. holding a lunch bunch for students with difficult home lives)
- Personal blame for putting school performance status at risk
- Not to mention, teaching during the attacks on the World Trade Centers, multiple national school shootings, a pandemic, No Child Left Behind, Race to The Top, funding cuts, union strikes, union dis-banding, merit pay, and school closures
I’m not saying all of this to gain pity or accolades. I don’t want you to think I’m great, or I’m bad or I’m bragging or trying to win the “How Hard Is Your Life” battle. I’m just trying to shed light on some of the things that teachers have been through. This isn’t even the worst of it. There are teachers out there who have endured more than I have, and who have fought against fights I can’t even conceive of.
The winter of 2022 I reached an all-time low. I walked into work every day with the mantra, “Don’t quit today.” Just for context, teachers rarely quit in the middle of the year. In twenty years of teaching, I have known TWO teachers who have quit in the middle of the year, and even then they at least waited until the end of a term to leave. I have never heard of or known any teacher to just up and quit one day in the middle of February (though many, many teachers have wanted to). We stay for the kids. We stay to give them some sort of closure, or at least see it out to grading season.
Last February, though, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it to spring break. I spent every night looking into employment options. I considering everything from a Starbucks barista to at-home care for adults with disabilities. I started researching careers where I could get on-the-job certifications and start working right away. With a mortgage and two children to provide for, I even looked into part-time minimum wage work. By some miracle, though, I made it to the end of the year. Please don’t congratulate me or think of me as some martyr or hero. By the grace of all the gods and the universe, I found a job in a new school along with the will to give this thing another go-round.
Some of my colleagues, though, did not escape unscathed. I witnessed people I considered excellent teachers have their teaching contracts canceled or non-renewed. I saw unprecedented amounts of teachers quit at the end of the school year and leave teaching all together. Then, this year, I have seen more teachers leave the profession in the middle of the year than I have in my whole twenty years in education combined. This is not to say that some of them “couldn’t hack it.” It is simply that they considered their mental health, their life welfare, their financial stability more important than the shit they endured on a daily basis from the forces outside of teaching.
This is not about difficult students. In fact, every single one of these comrades-in-arms that have left teaching have mourned the loss of their students. They have all, each and every one of them, sworn up and and down that leaving the children was the most difficult part of leaving the profession.
We haven’t even seen the start of it.
Some estimates say that we could lose 30% of our teaching force between the end of the 21-22 school year and the beginning of the 23-24 school year. Other estimates say that in polling numbers, 70% of teachers have thought about or made concrete plans to leave teaching. What’s keeping them coming back? The students, and their commitment to the children.
To put this in perspective, let’s say that your average high school has a certified teaching staff of 100. A department of 4-7 teachers for math, science, foreign languages, special education, english, language arts, humanities, performing arts, physical education, visual art, computer sciences, career and technical education (the old home-ec and vocational courses). This is not even including the non-certified staff that keep the lights on and the building running – office manager, school secretary, custodians, paraprofessionals, teacher aides, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, crossing guards, volunteers, librarians, and substitutes.
If 30% of this staff of 100 certified teachers were to leave right now, that would mean losing two people from each and every above department. So, the choir teacher now has to teach band, orchestra, and drama; the calculus teacher can’t focus on the advanced seniors preparing for college, they have to cover the basic freshman algebra class; the foreign languages department is cut from Mandarin, German, Spanish, and French, to just the staples of Spanish and French 101. The computer sciences are cut entirely to put those teachers in language arts classes. And substitutes are pulled to cover general education required courses so are unavailable to teach when staff get sick, or have a sick kid, or need to do something as simple as go to the dentist. And if everyone who considered it decided to quit, and up to 70% of your child’s school staff left before Fall of 2023, then that school would close due to lack of staffing. Your child would be bussed across town to another school that has also lost 3/4 of their staff, but the school would be full of twice as many students. Instead of one teacher to every 25 students, you have a school of 1 teacher to every 85 students.
Good-bye to achievement, farewell to individualized and differentiated education. And that global competition you wanted in the first place – you will never see that again.
This is what happens when those faithful, hard working, foot soldiers are expected to take the blame, responsibility, and fall for the failing of people with more power than what we have.
Contrary to what the popular voices may try to tell you, teachers are not out to corrupt your child. They do not want to turn every student into a liberal-thinking, progressive-minded, gender-neutral, critical-race theorizing, automaton that touts the left agenda. Teachers entered the profession out of love for children, not love of socialist propaganda. Teachers stay in the profession out of commitment to teach students, not to see those students turned into enemies of the state.
If you’ve made it to the end of this rant, you can do one more thing for me.
Please let us do our job.