When the thought of evolving and thriving professions occurs in the 21st century, why does the teaching profession fail to cross our mind? The answer is simple, teaching has failed to evolve into a career choice that fosters innovation, offers a competitive salary, and provides a system of growth opportunities. The same preparation, pay structures, and retirement systems set up decades ago are still largely intact today, forcing Millennials to fit into a system that no longer meets their professional needs and desires. While other sectors, such as tech, law, and medicine, have embraced changes over the years to overhaul the way they train, promote, and compensate their employees, the teaching profession has failed to conduct a similar audit. This resistance to modernization creates a barrier for Millennials and future generations from entering the profession and pushes excellent teachers out. This cycle is unsustainable and has a direct impact on our children, our future leaders.
As part of Idiya Consulting’s initiative to bring the problems of today to light to foster the innovations of tomorrow, we have an experience from a former teacher to share with you that can truly demonstrate that the teaching profession needs innovation so we can save our future generations.
I was a teacher. Four words I never thought I would say, but here I am. For twelve years being a teacher defined me and, if you knew me when I was in the classroom, I was the LAST person you would ever think would leave teaching. In fact, it even shocked me. I was proud of my profession – proud of the difference I was making each day with those third, fourth, and fifth-graders who were like my own children. Yes, my pay was low and days were long and parents were difficult and the curriculum was demanding, but I was a teacher and, in my eyes, there was nothing greater than that. Until one day when, suddenly, I could picture myself as something other than a teacher. It was a feeling that almost stopped me in my tracks. It was at that moment; I knew I needed to leave. I was worn down, and the pride I felt in “being a teacher” just wasn’t enough to sustain me through the difficult times.
After twelve years, I had seen teachers come and go. Some left quickly because the job was just too difficult, some retired after 30 blissful years happier than ever, and some – the majority – left the profession bitter and running for the doors. I vowed a long time ago that I would never be that burned-out teacher who hated coming to work and hated teaching kids. Those kinds of teachers are the worst kinds of teachers and leave indelible, negative marks on each child they teach. So, when the day came that I could see myself as something other than a teacher, I knew it was time to leave on a high note – while I still loved my job, still loved the kids, and still loved doing what I did best - teaching.
There was a multitude of things that helped push me to the point where I felt I needed to leave and they are complaints you’ll hear from just about any teacher out there. The complaints aren’t new, but they are more severe now than ever before and, ultimately, leave teachers feeling inadequate, disrespected, and 100% replaceable. Difficult parents and students, laughable teacher evaluations, agonizing pressure of standardized testing, ridiculous federal/state/county mandates, unreasonable administrators, and poor pay all top the list. The act of effectively teaching and molding 22 students each day is, in and of itself, one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. When you combine the stress of the profession with all the negative outside factors it becomes, quite honestly, almost unbearable.
As a teacher, I was lucky. I taught in wonderful schools, under mostly effective administrators (the ineffective shall remain nameless), and with fantastic colleagues who have become life-long friends. My students were (again, mostly) phenomenal little people and their parents (mostly) were kind, helpful, and supportive. In addition, I was fortunate to always have a wife who worked and made (admittedly) a lot more than me. We never worried about paying our bills, putting food on the table, or what we would do if the unexpected car trouble reared its ugly head.
This is simply NOT the case for the average teacher. Most young teachers I knew during my time in the classroom had extra ways of making money – many tutored several days/hours per week, some worked retail jobs over the holidays and during the summer, and some had full-time jobs at night after they would leave school just to make ends meet. THIS IS NOT OKAY.
To be a teacher, you must have a four-year college degree and pass a teacher certification exam. None of that is free – even after many scholarships and working through college, it still took me twelve years to pay off my student loans (yes, I paid my last loan payment on May 2nd of my final year in the classroom). In addition, teaching costs money. Yes, it does. All those fun science experiments your child does at school and the cute picture frame they made you for Christmas and the ice cream they had after lunch for meeting their reading goal? Yep, those were all likely paid for by your child’s teacher – out of his/her own pocket. Teaching also costs money, indirectly, because teachers work for free ... a lot. The bulk of the paid workday is spent with students teaching, but then there’s the grading and the planning and the conferencing and the meetings and the workshops. Those all take time ... after hours ... long after the paid workday has ended.
One day (since leaving teaching), I logged into Facebook and saw a post in a local teacher group I belong to by a young teacher who was asking for side hustle ideas to make extra money. In just 2 hours, the post had over 40 comments from other teachers telling what they did to supplement their income. I was incensed, shared the post, and wrote a tirade of my own about how this cycle needs to stop. Then, my personal friends – former colleagues – began sharing their own side jobs and, quite literally, how they manage to pay their bills each month. To say it saddened me is an understatement.
Teachers who have a college degree, who work 12 hour days for 7.5 hours of low pay, who largely fund their own classrooms, and who are beaten down daily and exhausted at the end of it all deserve better than what we’re giving them. What’s the answer? Truly, I don’t know, but what I do know is that something needs to change. I was a damn good teacher who worked hard, loved his kids, and never thought he would leave, but I did and many more just like me are leaving every day. The dedicated. The passionate. The caring. If something doesn’t change soon, there won’t be any good teachers left and the thought of that is terrifying.
In the post-Obama, we look to policymakers to shift the conversation towards policies that will address the issue of how to better recruit and retain talented public school teachers. Now is the time to modernize outdated policies to convince the best and brightest to enter our classrooms, the future is at stake.