Teachers enter the education sector for a multitude of reasons: the experience to make a difference, the continuity to be a lifelong learner, the advocacy in improving a broken system, or the belief and guidance of a chosen mentor. As inspiring as it is to see these incredible individuals assume the responsibilities of shaping and developing our future leaders of tomorrow, many educators have been noted to leave the field at an incredibly alarming rate. With the statistics going as high as 40 to 50 percent of teachers leaving the field with the first five years of the profession, we have to ourselves a challenging question: Why do teachers quit?
To begin, educators are faced with a plethora of problems, some of which are the following: unrealistic expectations set upon them by the Common Core State Standards, oversized classrooms, classroom management, lack of resources, low wages, etc. But regardless of it all, they continued to persevere until they cross that finish line of the end of the year. While it is great to see them stepping into the frontlines of education in order to bridge the education inequities that exist within the nation today, the countless burden and lack of support educators face are negatively impacting their want and desire to stay within the field. In fact, many educators, especially those retiring, have utilized social media to highlight and deliberate the disruptive and toxic events occurring within the education sector.
But what are these hurdles that are preventing teachers from staying within the field? How have we allowed it to come to this extreme where the turnover rate is simply at an all time high?
To start, salary has become one of the biggest definers within our society today. It dictates the work you contribute to your job and the overall value you contribute to society directly. According to the National Education Association, the national average starting salary for teachers in 2012 to 2013 was $35,141. While this figure may seem fine to some people, for many educators this figure is just simply too low for the workload they do each and everyday. If you look at what is expected from a teacher both in and out of the classroom, you would realize that the lesson planning, grading, meetings, and extracurricular activities force them to go beyond the 9-to-4 hours of the day. That in turn also provides an emotional and mental toll that forces many teachers to ‘burn out’ during the middle and end of the year. When you take all of the hours they invest for their students into consideration, that salary is not sustainable.
Outside of the salary, one of the other bigger issues teachers face is the ever-evolving dynamics within the classroom. As much as we can picture an ideal class setting with eighteen well-behaved students and a personally written lesson plan ready to execute, this is, in many cases, not reality. In fact, depending on the district, curriculum, and subject you are assigned to teach, you may be faced with a wide variety of obstacles that are only meant for you to fail. To explore this further, we have to go beyond the generic complaints of classroom management and disruptive students, and look further into the lack of autonomy and freedom teachers have with their lesson plans. At the end of the day, teachers do not call the shots. In fact, they have very much little to say when it come to their lesson plans. This type of overbearing culture is not only disempowering, but also frankly quite toxic.
Now, one of the last reasons teachers leave the education sector is because of respect, or lack thereof. Unlike the field of finance or medicine, education is not romanticized. Instead, it is seen as a simpler path that is simply one step ahead of babysitting. As much as the general public can criticize the profession, teachers and educational experts are the true backbone of the country. For educators, they are the planners, the consultants, the strategist, the parent, the mentor, the coach, the bad guy, the motivator, and the expert in giving our children an excellent set of education. If it was not for their strong efforts, many of these doctors, lawyers, and business owners will not be where they are today. But even with this investment, teachers are still not appreciated for all of their hard work.
If we want to keep our talents within the classroom, we as a nation need to make the necessary changes within the profession. If we do not, teachers and educational professionals will continue to leave. Remember, a world without teachers is a world without a future.