As a teacher, most of the people I know who end up leaving the profession early do so not because of pay (merit pay? huh?) but because of systemic dysfunction that pits teachers – the vast majority of whom honestly care about doing their best by and for the kids they work with – against a fiscal system designed originally to meet the needs of small scale agrarian trade vs. the socio-educational preparation of a generation of citizens AND against (as the article notes) a limited but highly vocal sub-set of parents and students who take out their own frustrations, anger and fears on the employees of a system that has been cowed into submission by threats of litigation, slander, and the anonymity and distance afforded by electronic communication.
Kids aren’t vegetables, they take decades not a season to grow and they are an investment that takes many many years to see come to fruition. When we measure “accountability” in a fiscal or academic year, we are not seeing the true value of education, and we not only put the cart ahead of the horse, we put a wall between the two and tell the horse to push the cart through a thick brick wall – then we point at the horse and say that it’s antiquated, a failure, and we heap abuses on it, regardless of the heart, the courage and the consistent effort it puts forth to move the wall.
As for the disconnect between parents, teachers, administration, politicians and kids – it is simply an extension of both the benefits and the risks of social media, and digital communication and citizenship at play. I have certainly been on the receiving end of ‘communications’ where people have outright refused to speak to me in person but have been quite free with email expressions of their frustrations. As with any interaction, it is very easy to have a “dialogue” become a monologue, and to have intent be misconstrued, focus lost etc when the face-to-face factor is taken from the equation. This is becoming common place in many modern workplaces, not just in teaching – but because teaching inherently involves kids, there is the added reality of third party interpretation (think of the old kids game of “Telephone” and how no message ever made it in tact around the circle), with people who are by the very nature of the fact that they ARE kids, are in the process of learning the ins and outs of navigating social cues, learning HOW to be emotionally mature – even though they may think they’ve already mastered it – and are going through some of the most emotionally and intellectually intense growth, and stressful times of their lives. The emotional stakes when communicating with, and about, kids are high. Parents have one, two, perhaps 5 or 6 kids they are passionately advocating for. Teachers may have hundreds of kids that they communicate with and advocate for, daily.
The teachers I know who burn out? They burn out not because they want more money in their pockets, but because they want more support – in their classrooms for their kids, in their classrooms, from parents who try to understand what goes on in a day-to-day in a school, from politicians and bureaucrats who fund programming as though kids are crops not human beings, and that we put band-aid solutions on gaping wounds we know are bleeding society dry through our antiquated approach to education. They burn out because they have given all they have to hundreds of kids – hours of time, their heart’s care, years of not enough sleep, countless millions of ergs of thought energy on how to balance the demands of “accountability” with the needs of 30+ different learners in such a way that it’s engaging AND relevant AND useful AND fits in the time allowed AND will make sure the kids can meet the expectation of a standardized test that is a load of hooey, sound and fury signifying not much that is useful. They have balanced the needs of their own kids and family against “their kids” at school (that’s how teachers talk – “my” kids, “our” kids) investing personal money when there wasn’t school funding for something, listening to personal stories that would break a heart because a kid doesn’t have another adult that they believe that they can trust, taking “I HATE YOU!” on the chin when being the grown up requires pulling on your Big Person pants and accepting that being a teacher is not actually being a friend, it’s being an adult, and sometimes that means making and sticking to the hard choices, and being “The Evil Monster Grown Up Who Just Doesn’t Get It!” even though you do.
What non-teachers sometimes forget is that your own kids grow up – they go through stages – this too, shall pass, right? A teacher tends to work with a general age group for years on end. On one hand, it’s wonderful, you form a level of expertise, and confidence. It adds up though – years and years of the same thing over and over. It’s ok – the stuff you expect because they’re kids, that’s ok. The stuff that adds up because the system is letting them down, over and over, and letting you down, over and over, and falling apart, a bit at a time, every year, a bit more, over and over – that adds up, and wears at you, as you push against the wall, just as hard as you can.
All the while, you know that if you just walked around the wall, and got in front of the damned cart, you could pull it along, and you could do it so well, and there’d be others to work with you, along side you – but if you did, you’d be beaten for having the temerity to see what seems so natural to you, and act on it… because it has “always” been this way.
Change happens, and it is happening, and there are many, many passionate, dedicated, dynamic educators who are working their best with great kids and hard working parents, administrators and communities every day. But EDUCATION is a system and it’s an entrenched WAY. It’s like turning a river from it’s bed. It takes time and effort and it’s wearing and difficult, and the resistance seems inexorable.
Never doubt it’s worth it, though. It IS worth it.