Do you remember watching the first few seasons of MTV’s The Real World in the 90s? Well it’s time to “stop being polite and start getting real” about education. You may think this doesn’t really apply to you because you’re not a teacher but there’s where you’re wrong, my friends. It’s important the other parents know the perils of this often thankless job. You need to be able to understand, empathize and be cognizant enough about this to stop sending painted wooden signs with the teacher’s name on it to school for Teacher Appreciation Week and instead – send vodka.
First, you need to know that the system is flawed from the ground up. Education is underfunded and regulated by people who have no friggin’ clue what goes on inside of a classroom. But doesn’t everyone know how hard teachers work? Well, parents anyway. I don’t think there’s a naysayer anywhere that actually says things like “but they get a week at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas and a week for Spring Break off … plus summers” and “they only work seven hours a day” anymore. Really, those are just the opinions of asshole internet trolls, right? But teachers are facing more than just shitty pay for hard work.
As a high school teacher, I faced different pressures and time suckers than elementary teachers. They spend the beginning of the year labeling desks, folders and cubbies, perfecting bulletin boards, creating a warm classroom environment for our spawn. They move on to deal with being the first to discover or diagnose learning disabilities, teaching them important shit like how to read, add and subtract, and trying to find inventive ways to teach that shit, which probably actually bores the hell out of them. And it works! My own kid recently came home singing this song while learning more complicated subtraction about borrowing from “next door” that I found myself humming while loading the dishwasher. Teachers nowadays are so cool and creative and make our former teachers look like small potatoes in comparison.
They teach the emotional under-ten crowd who can literally still piss their pants without a second thought at any given moment or cry because they saw a wounded butterfly on the playground. And those are the kids that don’t have more serious shit going on. Truth is, just because your kid and mine have it pretty friggin’ great, that’s not the case for all of the rest of them.
It’s definitely a job I don’t envy.
But high school teachers face their fair share of bad shit. They deal with suicidal kids, convicted felons, cyberbullying and pressures that grades we record can affect the rest of kid’s life. There are kids who bring guns to school, kids who are being lured online by predators, and kids who are damn near adults but aren’t mature enough to be.
And if all of that isn’t hard enough, the system is designed for failure. According to the New Teacher Center, a non-profit organization that aids in the development of training for teachers green behind the ears, between 40-50% of teachers quit within five years of becoming an educator. These are statistics that would alarm any HR department but instead of being concerned with retention, states and school districts make it more difficult to stay every year.
As a former teacher I can tell you that there are solid reasons good teachers quit even aside from the aforementioned ones. While there are many, I wanted to focus on the number one reason, in my opinion, of course, that great teachers are leaving the profession.
And … drumroll please …
… Shitty Administration.
Look, I have some great friends in administration and a few that are finishing up their degrees to become administrators and, based on my experience, I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to them when they receive their lobotomy, an obvious requirement of the job. What will become of them when they get into their cocoon and abandon their earthly bodies for the parallel universe that is school administration?
Yeah, I’ve come across some real duds in my decade of teaching that served as principals, assistant principals, deans, etc. The ladder climbers, those with Napoleon complex on some power trip to compensate for the size of their dick, and those that just want everything to look picture-perfect on paper and spend their time acting as a PR rep for the school instead of a leader.
From blaming the failure rates of students solely on teachers and ignoring systemic problems that plague downtrodden communities to creating “war rooms” wallpapered with standardized test scores, equating students only with the arbitrary number they scored on last year’s shittily-written test, I’ve seen poor administrators destroy a love of teaching and literally drive teachers to leave the profession like Saint Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes, which I’m pretty sure is a bullshit story anyway.
Bad administrators can kill a school and its teachers. They can murder a really cool program simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” harming the students more than anyone. They can make terrible decisions in terms of budgets, not purchasing much-needed supplies and forcing teachers to pay for these out of their own pockets. They can fail to be proactive in addressing school-wide issues and, instead, behave reactionary, creating chaos and a sense of panic.
Some are completely unsupportive of teachers when it comes to dealing with difficult parents, shoving them right under the bus during conferences. Some avoid handling student discipline at all costs, while concerning themselves with what additional bullshit they could pawn off on already stretched teachers, and some, I was sure, arrived home at night, unzipped their human suit and revealed themselves as a Tall Gray.
And don’t get me started on the spirit dress-up days and assemblies. Yes, asking teachers to dress up and/or make an ass of themselves isn’t my idea of a good time. No, I don’t need to wear camo to hunt anyone and I’ll skip the hyperbolic, stereotypical neon-vomit “80s day” too. I’ve got more important shit going on at home than to create a fucking costume for work every other week.
Then they patronize teachers by offering “jeans day” as a reward for something. Look, I don’t know about you but jeans are a fucking punishment. Want to make me happy? How about “It-Doesn’t-Matter-How-Fat-You-Are-Wear-Leggings-Anyway” Day? How about “Come-To-School-In-Whatever-You-Rolled-Out-Of-Bed-In” Day? But jeans? Fuck. You.
That all being said, there are some really great, supportive administrators out there too. (Shoutout to my first principal ever who left me alone and let me do my thing, even after I let a group of high school kids flood the second floor darkroom.) But if you’re an educator already on the fence about whether you can deal with a fifteen-year-old threatening you or another parent meeting where they accuse you of “not liking” their kid (because really, lady, I don’t like ANY kid) shitty leadership will kill it every single time.
Stay tuned this week for a guest post on Why (another) real teacher left education and what that means for your kids. Are you a teacher and have some to say anonymously? Send it to me and I’ll publish it as a guest post!