American Public Schools Chew Up Teachers and Spit Them Out

The stats leave no doubt: there is huge dissatisfaction among teachers.  The turnover rate is very high.  We need to answer the obvious question: why don’t principals and administrators take better care of their teachers? 

The most recent MetLife Survey revealed: “Teacher Dissatisfaction At An All-Time High.”  The NEA Today website continues: “Teacher job satisfaction has plummeted to its lowest level in 25 years, from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2012 –- a total of 23 points[.] … More than one-half of teachers report feeling under great stress several days per week, as opposed to one-third in 1985.” reported: “High Teacher Turnover Rates are a Big Problem for America’s Public Schools….46% of all new teachers in the United States leave the profession within five years…Teachers cite lack of planning time, workload, and lack of influence over school policy among other reasons for their decision to leave[.]”

Edutopia sums up the situation this way: “Every year, U.S. schools hire more than 200,000 new teachers for that first day of class. By the time summer rolls around, at least 22,000 have quit.” 

Interestingly, less than 20% of teachers cite salary as their primary complaint.  About 70% say the big problem is workplace conditions.

This Edutopia story, written by a failed teacher, concludes: “Many of these reasons are just euphemisms for one of the profession's hardest realities: Teaching can exact a considerable emotional toll. I don't know of any other professionals who have to break up fistfights, as I did. ... New teachers, however naive and idealistic, often know before they enter the profession that the salaries are paltry, the class sizes large, and the supplies scant. What they don't know is how little support from parents, school administrators, and colleagues they can expect once the door is closed and the textbooks are opened.”

Let’s consider all this bad news from the point of view of the teacher.  You might be only 27 or 28 years old.  You’ve dreamed about being a teacher for as long as you can remember.  You wanted to make a difference in the world.  You thought you could help your kids to build a better life.  But now you feel you have to walk away from all that.  It’s been a horrible experience, and you’re pretty sure you can never go back.  Just as bad, you borrowed a lot of money, and you still have a huge debt to pay.  Dreams and money, all gone.

 Now let’s consider this situation from the point of view of the Education Establishment.  By losing all these burned-out teachers, they have room for a whole new set of starry-eyed rookies who’ll need classrooms, books, and lots of instruction.  Thousands of professors will earn a good living making sure these newcomers have the credentials to be sent into the trenches.  What if the public schools filled up with experienced longtime teachers?  That could be the end of the gravy train.

Point is, the people at the top don’t have a lot of incentive to protect their teachers. Maybe that’s part of the reason why they don’t.

Let’s face it: the common denominator in all K-12 education is that teachers are pushed around or left to fend for themselves.  The paradigm story is where a teacher has trouble with students, the teacher goes to the principal for help, and the principal grandly declares: you’re a professional; it’s your classroom; take care of it.

There are many separate assaults: constant interruptions, loudspeakers making announcements, students drifting in and out, many unnecessary meetings and so-called professional development (PD), and a general tolerance of disorder and violence.  Teachers can’t feel safe.  They can’t do much teaching.

It almost seems as if the school system is cunningly designed to make sure only the toughest, most desperate people can survive.  Sensitive, highly intelligent teachers would probably be the first to crack.  There really does seem to be a war against teachers.  Does it have to be this way?

Suppose, first of all, that schools of education prepared teachers at a higher level.  (According to Rita Kramer’s book Ed School Follies, the training is actually very shallow.)  Then suppose that principals aggressively supported their teachers, and made clear to students that there will be no disrespect shown.  Suppose the administrators got a bonus when teachers survived past a third or fourth year.  Suppose there was a clearly announced social contract between the school and the community: children are expected to behave, or they will be punished appropriately.

Unfortunately, many teachers think they’re being pushed around by parents, the community, or commentators like me.  The teachers seem to identify with the Education Establishment.  Isn’t this an example of Stockholm Syndrome?  Teachers actually think they are in the trenches with the Education Establishment.  No, teachers are alone in the trenches.  I think there are three sets of victims in K-12 education: students, parents, and teachers.  The situation can’t be improved until teachers have a clearer view of their reality.  They are cannon fodder; they are expendables.

Finally, we’re forced to consider the idea that the indifference to teachers is part of a war on education generally.  It’s part of the whole deliberate dumbing down of America that Charlotte Iserbyt described in her book by that name

Undercutting teachers and rendering them ineffective will obviously produce the mediocre results that the Education Establishment, in Iserbyt's view, deliberately seeks.

To put that another way, the last thing the Education Establishment would want is a stable corps of highly professional, experienced teachers.  So, by hook and by crook, our education commissars give future teachers inadequate training, and then set them loose in a blackboard jungle.  Cold, very cold.

You will know that our Education Establishment is serious about improving education when they start to be fiercely protective of their teachers.

The one thing that has to be done in schools is called teaching.  Administrators ought to be reassigned to teaching or security.  Perhaps then their priorities will change.

Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on his site