As many of you may know, I taught high school English for several years. I enjoyed my students and the literature I was able to engage them in, but the overall teaching experience was not for me.
People are often shocked that I chose to leave teaching after just three years. When I tell them that I spent nearly 30 hours a week working outside of the classroom, they were in disbelief. Surely, that’s an exaggeration? Sadly, it is not. With department meetings, parent phone calls, lesson planning, essay grading, as well as chaperone duties, I easily worked from 7:30am-7:30pm each day of the week, as well as spending most of my Sundays on work.
Teaching is a pressure cooker. Not only do you have the responsibility of teaching all these students, which means doing all the prep work and grading, you are under pressure to perform to a certain standard. Every class is the equivalent of putting on a show. You memorize your lines, you have your props, you sneak jokes in here and there, but you’re always mindful that you must incorporate standards, technology, multiculturalism, cross-curricular tie-ins….It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.
And it often does. Several reports have come out in recent years citing the high turnover rates among teachers, particularly in their first five years of teaching. These numbers have been quoted anywhere from 25-50%, while most agree that it’s about 30%. Think about that! 1 in 3 teachers are leaving their jobs in the first five years for other careers! What is really a shame is that many of these teachers are wonderful at their jobs. They are talented, brave, creative, and engaging, and they are failing to get the job satisfaction they need to keep them in the industry.
A recent study highlight the problems of retention in teaching. TNTP (The New Teacher Project) conducted a study focused on teacher retention in urban areas. These areas are more likely to be dealing with issues of budget cuts, over-crowding, and little teacher support. Their report found that retaining teachers who were highly effective at their jobs was more difficult that retaining teachers who were not.
In light of all this, it’s hard not to view the Chicago teachers’ strike with some sympathy. They are facing massive budget cuts, severe overcrowding (as many as 43 kindergarteners in one classroom), as well as a flawed teacher evaluation system. Personally, I hate that there are hundreds of thousands of children out of school while these teachers strike. Many of these children need school as a day care service for their working parents, as well as a source of meals and support. However, those facts alone are enough to further support these teachers. In today’s busy world, teachers often become surrogate parents to their students, spending more time with them than they do their own families. School provides a structure and a support that many students are not getting at home.
In some cases this is understandable, but in many cases it is not. Drawing from my own experiences and the teaching experiences of friends and colleagues, I’d like to make a plea:
Parents, please parent your child! Please look over their homework. Ask them when their reports are due. Engage them in conversation at dinner that takes place over a table and not in front of a tv. If they do something wrong, discipline them. If they do something well, praise them. Your child needs your attention. Teachers cannot do it all. They need your help! They need you to parent so they can get back to the already stressful business of teaching. If you don’t want to do it for the teachers, do it for your child. They’re more likely to succeed in school (and in life) if you get involved. Support your schools, your teachers, your child by being a parent.