Issue #2: S#%&$ Teachers vs. Good Teachers

Why do the bad ones get to stay and the good ones get driven out?

Dear Kristin,

Why do they always keep the shitty teachers and chase the good ones away?

Amy

Dear Amy,

To begin, let’s talk about the keeping the shitty teachers part. Please know, if you are currently teaching, I do not think you are shitty. In fact, cheers to those excellent teachers who show up every day and have to partner with bad co-workers. You should get a performance bonus for doing so, but if your school is like any school I have ever taught in, all you get is labeled as the easy going teacher who can collaborate with anybody. And then difficult co-workers somehow continue to land on your team . . .

The mass exodus of the profession, of which I was a part of last year, is frightening. It feels as though school districts are extending contracts to anyone with a pulse. The ability to speak in complete sentences is no longer a requirement.

Guys, I have seen some things from my colleagues. Like, I wouldn’t hire some of them to water my plants while I was out of town. Their staggering levels of incompetence would have me wondering, How are we peers? It’s a miracle this person can even figure out how to put on pants and get to work daily.

I hate to be pessimistic about the profession I grew to love (until I didn’t) but it is a house on fire. And college students are no longer super jazzed about taking on school loans to get a degree in a profession that will have them locked into a rigid payment plan until the day they die. While also being forced to take on extra jobs to supplement their income. They ain’t bailing us out.

Here’s a terrifying graphic, for you visual learners. It’s important to note, this report was made in 2019, pre-pandemic. Now, I bet that gap at the end is even wider.

Unfortunately, I am not done with my sad stats. Those new graduates who do make it through education programs, degree in hand, determined to enter the workforce and make a difference? 44% quit within the first 5 years.*

So, that gives you a few reasons as to how we got here. They need warm bodies. So, if you are a shitty teacher, now is your time to shine! You are gonna soar under that admin radar as the bar of credibility has been lowered incrementally, over time.

Now, to answer your question about why they drive the good ones out? The reasons are quite varying, online, when I dig for data. It’s what you would expect: low pay, discipline issues, lack of support, paperwork demands, the need for better work/life balance, and/or slowly losing their minds and grip on reality.

When I survey my large network of teacher friends and family, I have a few – and when I say few, I mean three – teacher friends who are happy in their jobs. They all have these three things in common: manageable workload, teaching what they are passionate about, and supportive administration.

I believe those three factors are the most crucial in determining if a teacher is going to stay in their job. It’s rare to get all three. Many teachers will hang on for years, with just one of those crucial factors. Those quality teachers who have none of those factors? They leave.

For me, personally, (yes, I will put myself down in the "good teacher driven out" column), I often got to teach what I was passionate about. Special ed. is like that, lots of openings, all of the time. It’s what kept me going for 12 years, being able to work with the kids who are my jam.

I recently came across this quote from Teacher Career Coach. It explains a baseline, nagging problem many teachers cannot shake:

During my first year of teaching, as I was grappling with how to manage my caseload, I knew that I would either be great at the paperwork or I would be great in the classroom. But it would be impossible to excel at both.

I wound up leaving for reasons other than paperwork demands. However, the sense that I would never be caught up and always be in a deficit bothered me. I do not know if a manageable workload would have been enough to keep me going, honestly. And how would I know? I never had one.

If I had to generalize about what drove me out (both times), it was unsupportive administration. It’s what led me to those feelings of hopelessness I shared in the above quote, of feeling like it was impossible to do a good job for my students.

My situation was unique in that when my admin failed me, it resulted in me feeling unsafe, as I had students who were physically aggressive. Not everyone has that, thankfully. But I suffered from an extremely high level of stress that came as a result of continually protecting myself, as well as my students and fellow life skills co-workers. Again, I am speaking very broadly, thinking more in terms of, which box would you check for why you left? My situation was more nuanced and is difficult to summarize in one paragraph.**

Overall, Amy, I see school districts as these giant, large, sprawling machines that encapsulate many moving parts. If you are going to fit in and be a good little cog, you have to figure out how to service the machine. Some really bad teachers have figured out their place in the machine and they will happily sit there, collecting a paycheck until retirement. Other teachers, usually of quality, cannot abide by the dysfunction, so they leave.

Reader, I wish I had a happier note to end on, however, I do not. I don’t want to blame the question asker, because at this point, I need all of the questions I can get! I also have a feeling most of the questions I am going to get are going to be downers. I do appreciate the question. Moving forward, I vow to continue to be an advice giver who won’t force positivity where it does not belong.

—Kristin

*This stat came from a report by a team who gathered data on three decades of educational trends. I found it to be the most credible source on the subject, however, I did not read the full report because . . . I have a lot of Bravo to watch, guys. But it’s here, if you want to read beyond the first simplified link I provided, which had their findings in easy-to-read graphics.

**If you want more details about my second departure from teaching, I was interviewed for the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking. The episode is linked, but if you need to search, the episode is called, “The Teachers Are Not Alright.”

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