Betsy-the-biting-cat and the teacher shortage

Christine Marsh Education, Education Policy

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Betsy-the-cat has learned (mostly) not to bite me anymore. When I first got her in June, she was already eight-years-old and perhaps had a history of abuse. I’m not sure. I couldn’t figure out what set her off, because I’d be happily snuggling her, and all of the sudden, she’d bite me—lighting fast. There was no time for me to even react before her teeth were inches into my flesh.

Now, when she’s about to bite me, I can see it in her demeanor, and as soon as I see it, I strike first, before she has a chance. I don’t actually strike/hit her, of course, but I yell,“HEY! Knock it off!” and she hisses and jumps away from me, only to come back 90 seconds later to snuggle again.

From the first moment Betsy crawled into my lap, I loved her so much that I was willing to put up with some pretty nasty bites and scratches. I had faith that she would eventually get used to me and stop biting—which is, indeed, what happened.

What would have happened to her with a person who has less faith? I know for a fact that my own mother would have gotten rid of Betsy, and she won’t even touch Betsy when she’s at my house.

I don’t blame my mom. Betsy’s bites hurt far more than one would think is possible—and it hurts for days.

A few months ago, I wrote that Betsy was like data (you can find the link at the bottom), but her biting is also like the teaching-shortage.

Right now, teaching is like Betsy. Teaching bites and hurts and draws blood. It’s why we lose so many teachers, why there’s a teaching-shortage of crisis proportions.

Teachers are getting repeatedly bitten. In this metaphor, the decision-makers are doing the biting; they’re defunding education, proposing bills that seem quite punitive to teachers, and making sure that they can get as much money into private hands as possible.

Every one of those actions is, metaphorically, teachers getting bit. Every one of those actions is Betsy, taking a bite out of an arm (or hand or whatever she can get).

Some of us are willing to wait it out. Maybe we’re high enough on the pay-scale that the bites are simply not as deep, or maybe we love teaching so much that we’re willing to withstand the bites, willing to tolerate some blood and scratches.

But even those of us with a great deal of passion and faith will eventually get tired of getting bit. One’s faith that things will change is finite, I think. When the day comes that most/all teachers are tired of being bit, I hope decision-makers and legislature have a plan in place.

Or maybe they could just stop biting. If Betsy can learn….


Betsy and data:


Christine Porter Marsh

Scottsdale, Arizona

My favorite thing about teaching is watching the lights go on in students’ eyes, watching them getting passionate about traditionally boring things like reading and writing well. This is why I keep coming back. I am in my 24th year of teaching in the same high school from which I graduated, and I still feel like it’s the best job in the world.

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  • Donnie Lee

    This is a powerful metaphor. I wish teachers could see when the bite is about to happen and say, “Hey! Knock it off!” It’s amazing how many bites teachers will put up with. How many times in your career would you say you have been “bit”? One bite that I forgot about since the early days of my career was the fear of staffing changes due to student enrollment. As numbers drop, some positions are cut and teachers are forced to move grades, schools, and even districts. I know many teachers that are currently dealing with this right now.

  • Treva Jenkins

    Like Donnie–I love this metaphor Christine!! At this point in education, I feel like the bites now are more like being mauled by a bear!! We all know to well the phenomenon of many teachers leaving the profession not very long after entering it. Richard Ingersoll speaks about 40 and 50 percent of public and private school teachers leaving the profession by the end of the fifth year of starting their career. Right now, I see teachers contemplating this decision just after the first year of teaching because the “bites” are so horrific. Like Donnie mentioned, more and more positions are cut every year and not knowing if one will have a job as each spring approaches is very distressing. As teachers, we are not in any financial position to just hang around until May and see if something comes up. We are trying to survive like everyone else is in this unpredictable economy. A world without teachers is one without a future and one I don’t want to live in.

  • Lisa Moberg

    Teachers are continually bitten, especially by society! We need to rise in our perception as educators to overcome this biting mentality they have.