I can only speak from my own teaching experience but much of what I have to say may be relatable to those currently teaching, considering leaving, or have already left. These are my opinions and my personal views on the subject. I'll be breaking things down into key themes that I believe are larger issues leading to the changes we're seeing.
One of the most important resources that we have is time. My perception of time changed the further I was into my teaching career and even now that I've left. Time means something different to everyone and my understanding of it is always changing every day.
While spending time in the classroom, time was valuable to me, and that meant: time available to teach, lesson planning, eating, having a resting period, and time to travel to multiple campuses. I can only assume that this is even harder for teachers and students now more than ever. This also meant what am I doing with my own personal time? Well, as you might imagine, "personal time" didn't exactly amount to that because simply put, there wasn't much time in a day for that to happen. It comes as no surprise why so many teachers are leaving, substitutes are rare to come by, and it isn't just teachers leaving, it's also superintendents.
Work is work
This one should seem like a no-brainer. While teaching I always envied friends outside of education or medicine, and really, any positions of public service. I'm talking about those that could hang up their work clothes, work hat, and leave their work brain at the door. As a teacher, it seemed impossible to shut off from a world where there was constant reminders, emails, conferences, grade reports, lesson planning, etc...it was too much.
Even summer, spring break, Christmas break, and Thanksgiving all felt far too short to catch up from the onslaught of work. Any time you get "off" was too short or riddled with some sort of conferences, professional development, and in many case, sports or fine arts camps. And for the millionth time, "paid summer vacations for teachers" is not a thing. The salary position does not include summer months, the pay schedule is spread across 12 months.
Technology and the red tape
Technology is an incredible way to change how information is shared and taught to young people. However, the red tape for using relevant technology in the classroom is a serious problem. For every new gadget that is cutting edge and could save time, there are a thousand little amazing features within software that must be removed. By the time it undergoes the vetting process with the district some new software has already been released and the content in the classroom is rendered useless compared to the speed of the rest of the world...and that's if the wireless connection is decent at the campus.
...speaking of WiFi. The very idea of WiFi is to have a wireless hub that allows internet use to be mobile. However, one of the hardest things to keep consistent in the classroom is the wireless internet or hardwired internet connection. If teachers are meant to keep up with "technology in the classroom", then we are failing miserably at this. There are solutions, but that's for another post...
Even worse, security software and hardware products are connected to wireless. If most communication is made via email on campuses and WiFi is spotty at best this could be the difference between a teacher knowing if the bell schedule changed, whether or not students can share projects with the class or in the worst cases, important communications could be missed about real external threats on campus. Not to mention all the "virtual learning" connection issues. 🤦♂️
Safety and security
Some of the worst memories I had involved daily drills in safety and security for our students. Not that I didn't care for safety and security of our students, it was the shear volume and depth needed to play different roles.
In the moment of those drills, the gravity of what we were doing did not phase me too much, but now that I'm far removed from the classroom - the disturbing reality hits really hard when real threats happen.
I remember being in an active shooter drill with eleven and twelve year old students, barricading the door with desks, chairs, and telling students to hide, crouch, and duck down for the drill. Just that scenario alone covers a lot of the key themes listed previously in this post. There were some other grim trainings that would make sense if I wanted to be an EMT, nurse, or work in the medical field...
Tourniquets and open wounds - yes, I remember eating breakfast and completing a course that showcased real open bullet wounds, how to stop the bleeding, and severed ankles were some of my least favorite things to view just before class started. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking, "Choosing to view those courses during your breakfast and just before class was your choice." Yes, fair enough. However, going back to my key theme of time, there's really not an optimal time to take care of those tasks. After all of that, it was a strange feeling to then walk out and teach class as if I didn't do an entire training on how to save a life of a gunshot victim at a school.
Jack of all trades
This one is simple. Positions are changing rapidly, teachers are taking on more responsibilities than ever before. There will always be people willing to do more for less, because they either want to please immediate superiors or they don't want to lose their job. That is the wrong mindset. Specialty positions should be compensated for and highly sought after. I was talking to a friend that is a professor of music at their university (D.M.A. for reference) and they jokingly mentioned, "You're looking at the social media director for the entire school of music." That blows my mind. We're spreading people thin with the special skill set they were hired for.
Learning those skillsets shows how resourceful someone is, but that only makes things harder for them in the long run, especially should they choose to stay for the position they intentionally signed up for.
This one is really frustrating. I remember a 6th grade student telling me they were quitting band after one year because they had to take certain courses for them to get ready for college.
What the hell is this? These are children that need time to be creative and grow. There's a laundry list of problems with where colleges are headed - from a pricing standpoint and just the growth in different industries when someone graduates - when all is said in done, our economy is rapidly changing -- really. The new economic revolution has been here for a while now.
This one may seem more abstract as a reason why teachers are leaving but I switched to working for myself using marketing and developing as a jumping off point, so bare with me here as I put the pieces together.
Automation is already here and it's the future. Automation seems like the boogeyman to hundreds of thousands of people because they're either scared, misinformed, or freaking out for a multitude of reasons -- all of which I believe are warranted -- it's uncharted territory in an economic landscape that changes week to week.
New positions will be created with automation and there will be integrations needed -- bringing balance to the force -- if you will. For example, automated bots in the kitchen are creating all kinds of issues for the restaurant industry - just check out David Chang's series "The Next Thing You Eat" about AI in the kitchen. It's daunting and very grim, but I believe there will be a way to live in harmony with aspects of automation.
So, how does this tie into teachers leaving? Well...let's look way back.
There was a time when humans only had a few things to worry or focus on; food, water, shelter, and creating more humans (yup, you know, the thing that got you here). I know, I know, I'm not saying we need to go back to primitive times, but what I am saying is that development, coding, software and the change in technology is showing the possibility for humans in a profound way. Many teachers are leaving the profession simply because you can get paid your worth and have more time and money for those basic necessities mentioned above. It's no secret how stagnate wages and salaried positions are for teachers. So, why is it so difficult to just live? Well, there's good news...
Web 3.0 and what it means for teachers or anyone that is tired of their job
Web 3.0 is probably the most unpredictable thing that showed up after I left teaching. It also happens to be one of my favorite things to see happening. If you're unaware, people are creating their own courses and sharing their own knowledge...and selling it. That means that teachers are perfect for sharing their knowledge, expertise, and how they think things should be taught. Imagine creating your own course while you're still teaching - you've already created a ton of content during virtual learning - now you can monetize and market that through automation with adults or students around the world that are deeply passionate about your subject!
This isn't limited to just teaching but now more than ever, people are making money doing the things they love in the form of content creation and social media platforms. Web 3.0 is allowing knowledge to be shared, stored, and sold at a rapid pace. I'd love to talk more about that over zoom if you're serious about how to monetize your knowledge. (I'm helping people with their courses as I'm finishing this post - 😂).
Some people scoff at the idea of making money off YouTube or TikTok and not calling it "real work" - but that's where we are now. Follow the money, see how it moves. People are sharing their opinions, their passions, hobbies, and there are consumers out there. People are making extra money with minimal face time and automation - trust me, I was doubling my monthly income at one point while teaching just running advertisements for small businesses.
Simply put, teachers have been experiencing burnout for longer than just the past two years. I can only imagine their struggles this school year. And if there is anyone still thinking, "yeah, well, that's just tough. You shouldn't have signed up to be a teacher" or "Well, I've been teaching for years and you're just complaining, instead of working hard."
My response would simply be this, "Shouldn't the goal of our society be to make our lives easier? Just because you went through those traumatic experiences and 'came out okay' doesn't mean everyone has to go through that. This isn't about pride or 'being tough', it's about looking out for one another and creating happier, healthier people - both inside and out.
So, if it's helpful and healthy for you, I'm glad to lend a listening ear or just have a conversation if I may be of some help.
Simply leave a comment below or we can chat over zoom without spotty WiFi connections, grade books, black screens, or fire drills.