I’ve come across a few blogs and Facebook posts that include letters from teachers that have decided to leave their current teaching positions and have completely resigned. Most of these pieces have been very heartfelt stories that included the reasons why they left and why others might be leaving as well. I started to notice a similar thread to these posts and began to wonder if the challenges teachers are facing in Arizona are the same ones that are plaguing the educational system throughout America.
Here are some of the common themes:
Time: Teachers have reported working far more than eight hours per day, on weekends, during the summer and winter break and being asked to return to school early in order to prepare for the next school year without pay.
Paperwork: Teachers are being asked to use curriculum that contains teacher directions, to rewrite those directions into lesson plans and to follow up with writing them once again in an electronic grade book. Lesson plan templates are also becoming more routine; they tend to be multi-page endeavors that require coding, differentiation, strategies, and my personal favorite – scripts. Redundancy is rampant in education and it has very little to do with teaching and a lot more to do with compliance. There is a time and a place for things like this but it has gotten out of hand. A teacher might spend over an hour writing out a lesson that only takes 20 minutes to deliver. Over the course of a school year this adds up to endless wasted hours for teachers.
Professional Development: This is the area that creates the most frustration for many teachers. Learning and refining the art of teaching has been compressed down into endless hours of data talks, data notebooks and analyzing data. This is slowly killing the spirit of teachers everywhere. Data is important but it is only one facet of a much bigger picture. Very little time is spent on learning new skills to support the diverse needs of students in professional development.
Differentiation: This seems to have become the get out of jail free card for school districts. Students come with many different needs, in the past teachers have collaborated with families as well as with school resources to create learning that met the needs of students. Resources have now been pulled away and teachers have been told to differentiate, with very little training, if any, provided. The needs of students are growing and teachers can’t do it alone. When teachers ask for support they are often told to differentiate and unfortunately teachers might not always speak up and ask how. The message is do more with less.
Hearing No: Teachers have a lot of barriers to overcome when attempting to navigate an educational system. They also hear ‘No” quite often and this is because even though it may appear that school districts make decisions in a transparent fashion the reality is that only a handful of people in a school district get to make the important decisions. This means that only a few people are truly empowered to provide a teacher with a “Yes” to a policy change, program change or the development of a new program for students.
Last year, I had a meeting with one of these decision makers and brought up this idea of ‘No” and how many times a teacher might hear that in a school year. I was quickly told that that was not possible and that leadership strives to blah blah blah…I completely tuned out because the scenario that I was describing as a problem was reenacting itself right in front of me. I was being told “no”, “no that doesn’t happen here”. I had a flashback to the movie Inception and started to smile.
Compensation: Teachers can no longer afford to teach!
Beliefs: All of the resignation posts I’ve read have stated the same thing, teachers are willing to put up with everything described above, but they could not compromise their educational beliefs. Education has changed and continues to change in a direction that is not about students and their needs, but about numbers and compliance. Good teachers refuse to teach to the test, test for the sole purpose of generating data and watch students become pawns in a larger educational game.
Students: No teacher stated that they were leaving because of students or families. They all seemed to mourn the loss of a career filled with pride and a sense of purpose tied to students. The real losers in this are students, experienced teachers are leaving in waves and new teachers are replacing them but often leave the profession within three years. The vast pool of knowledge and experience that teachers have is dissipating at a rate that cannot be replenished.
I type these final words with sadness because I too have chosen to leave. Although, I was not a classroom teacher when I resigned I saw these things happening to teachers around me and could no longer bare witness.