Why I left K-12 Teaching

Now that I’ve been able to mentally and emotionally digest my circumstances, I want to talk about it. Specifically, I want to discuss why I left K-12 teaching. My story is not entertaining or confusing (for one of those, I’ve attached Rebecca Rogers’ Quitting video—YIKES).

Rebecca Rogers’ “Why I Quit Teaching” video. This is not a video by or affiliated with the Rhetoric and Teaching Witch.

Instead, my quitting K-12 teaching experience was quiet and, most likely, more indicative of what is occurring on a national scale in our country. I can say having taught at the K-12 level that I will NEVER go back. EVER.

I know the loss of one teacher (me) doesn’t seem like a concern in the public K-12 sector. But we are losing too many quality teachers. I am concerned. You should be concerned.

The world-wide thing which must not be named exacerbated flaws in an under-funded system. Staff (not just teachers) left in droves. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that “there were 270,000 fewer school staff” from January 2020 to July 20221. There is a 9.3 percent decline in K-12 employment since the Covid pandemic2. Schools don’t have the physical bodies to cover all essential duties. Your child may not even have a physical adult in the room.

I did not want to leave. I still feel guilt about leaving my students and peers. I was in a self-contained special education classroom. Administrators are particularly struggling to fill self-contained classroom gaps. These students need the most support and their behaviors are often a deterrent to new hires.

Work Load

The first reason I quit was the work load. Teachers work hard. Teachers technically have contracted work hours. My contracted hours were 30 minutes before the start of school (6:50 AM) until the end of school (2:20 PM). Other teachers at the same school had different contracted hours (7:00 AM- 2:40 PM). Administration had different hours; staff had even more different hours. Due to the discrepancy in hours, it was common to get meeting requests OUTSIDE of my contracted hours (with no additional pay- but that comes later in this post).

In my off-time, I had to create and grade assignments, complete professional development trainings, plan or supervise school events, and, you know, make sure I do the human things required to keep living (eat, sleep, shower). I also have and like my family. There was never enough time in the day, week, semester to complete all the things. So I learned to say no and things that were not priorities faded away. I feel that the best teachers do this (not that I am the best- 10 years into teaching and I learn every day). They learn to prioritize or else they burnout.

“But teachers have the whole summer off.” No, no we don’t.

PAY.

I’m still salty about this one. The pay was horrendous. My annual pay was $46,000. While terrible, I could live with this amount. The problem came with the fact that I worked at a PUBLIC K-12 school. (This was not the fault of my individual school administration- Florida zones their schools by county and it’s a hot mess).

I had to pay for classroom supplies. I had to buy or provide copier paper. I had to pay for some state-mandated professional development trainings. If I wanted to continue my education (with advanced degrees), that cost would have come from my pocket entirely as there was no employer reimbursement program.

I did not receive a bonus or cost of living adjustment from one year to the next. I did not receive a retirement account contribution match (or any employer input).

Community

I had a great support system in my fellow teachers. We shared resources, ideas, and lives. I miss them terribly. My administration were all kind and helpful, but they had too many duties to provide a sense of community or belonging to the teachers. While I was making my decision to leave, the people (at my work and my Baby’s daycare) were the one factor that absolutely made me want to stay.

Ultimately, I wanted a larger sense of community. I wanted my family and friends back. I moved back to Ohio to see them more often. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us.

Sources:

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES9093161101

2 Bleiburg and Kraft. https://edworkingpapers.com/ai22-544

Where have all the teachers gone?

When Googled, there are 26 MILLION search results for “teacher burnout”. The latest news stories discuss potential 4 day work weeks, how to manage stress, schools closing due to sick teacher call outs, and the high numbers of teachers looking to quit. This is not a problem. It’s a crisis. And for most Americans, it’s a silent crisis.

We’ve become accustomed to the “traditional” American school day. We get up early and make the children a nice, hearty breakfast before sending them to school on the bus. Our children’s school days roughly mimic their parent’s working hours. They go to school early and finish sometime in the afternoon (2:25-4:45 P.M.). It’s expected, and legally required, to school our children.

But we take the existence of a school for granted. Schools take a lot of money, manpower, resources, etc… to operate. Communities, and individuals within those communities, do not always see the value of a school. Many people think of teachers (and the services provided) as babysitters. They don’t want to increase their taxes or pay additional levees. This money often pays for things like additional teachers, more classroom space, new technology, professional development, and more. Working without these resources can be demoralizing.

Why are teachers burning out? There is not enough time in the day to be all the things that every student needs. Teaching now is more than just the course content. I have to be an advocate, a social worker, a role model, a mom, and a teacher all rolled into one.

Typical Teaching Day

My typical day starts a 5:30 A.M. with breakfast, commuting, etc… I have to report to my assigned “teaching” location at 6:50 A.M. Working in a self-contained Special Education room, I have to help my students get off the bus and supervise them in a safe location until we can walk into the classroom. The school day officially starts at 7:20 A.M.

Throughout my day, I teach: Math, Life skills, Science, and Social Studies. I also have to supervise my students in life skill tasks (handwashing, eating breakfast or lunch, using the toilet, walking from building to building to name a few). My students cannot be left unsupervised at any point in the day.

The students in the general education classes also cannot be left unattended at any point. If you do so, you are liable for any damage, etc… that occurs.

Self-contained Special Education teachers rarely get a planning period. We officially have a planning period, but student behavior problems, school schedule changes, inclement weather, etc…, often means our students stay with us during our planning periods. Planning period is supposed to be protected time that is used for making copies, creating lessons, grading student work, calling parents, using the restroom, or eating a snack.

The general education teachers do not fare much better. Their planning is often “voluntold” to cover teacher absences or duty spots.

The school day ends at 2:20 P.M. which means the start of more work. Any official parent-teacher conferences are scheduled to start AFTER our contracted hours from 2:20-2:50 P.M. (Because, of course, I want to be yelled at by irate parents while not being paid).

After any meetings, I need to start any work for CEUs (Continuing Education Units). To maintain our teaching certificate/license, we have to take specific coursework or professional developments. I have to attend face-to-face or virtual meetings, complete homework and assignments, and take tests.

Finally, I am human and have a family. I need all basic human necessities and have to care for my own child. This could be its own full-time job.

What can we do?

As a society, we need to make quality education a priority. These are children who will one day live, work, procreate. They need to be educated fully to be productive members of society. This means we, as a society, need to make some shifts in how we view school and teaching.

Teachers are being maligned as ‘harming’ children and are subjected to constant scrutiny (and even direct surveillance) by many parents, school administrators, and activist group

“Teachers to culture Warriors: stop treating us as enemies”. washington post, March 22, 2022

We want to teach. We want to help children grow and reach their full potential. Difficult political climates make this hard. I teach in Florida. Infamously, I can’t say gay. Books are disappearing from bookshelves. This helps no one.

We need more resources (qualified teachers, support staff, trainings…). We need flexible logistic thinking (like 4 day work weeks). We do not need more laws, more hurdles, more mandates.

As a teacher, it is up to me to protect myself from burnout. To do so I follow a few steps:

  • Recognize signs in yourself first. What does your anxiety look like?
  • Don’t work for free or after hours. Thats a fool’s errand.
  • Take a day off.

Teachers now consider:

When is it time to do something else?

Teaching Resources for the Special Educator

A resource is only as useful as the person utilizing it. That is, if you don’t know what/how you are using a resource, you will fail. You must have a goal or objective when lesson planning and using resources.

When you have your objective, write it down. Yes, create a lesson plan. I am a fan of backwards curriculum design. You should include the objective of each individual class session on your lesson plan. It is okay, and expected, to have remediation days—plan for them. On your lesson plans, write when/how you will use each resource. When using a resource, ask yourself “why this thing?”

If you are unsure how to implement a resource, check YouTube or ask a peer for demonstration of the (new) technique, worksheet, or skill.

If you have multiple students with different needs, planning for all of the different accommodations can seem daunting. What do you do? Where do you start? When planning for accommodations start with the most intensive needs and work to the least intensive needs. In a self-contained setting, the most intensive needs may require a completely altered lesson plan/delivery, while the least intensive needs may only require a small modification. Visualize how each student can meet the lesson objective and WRITE IT DOWN.

Reminder: always preview any resources before using with students.

01


Resource Coach

The best resource in the Special Educator’s arsenal is their district Resource Coach or Disability Coordinator. This person often specializes in accommodations, teaching techniques, and learning theory. Often, they can tell you how/why you should be using a special technique to improve student learning.

02


Teachers Pay Teachers

Teachers Pay Teachers is filled with great, teacher-created resources (worksheets, fonts, PowerPoints, etc…). TPT will take some time to navigate, just because there are SOOO many things. It’s best to use the filters to find exactly what you want or need. Some of the resources cost money, but TPT has a lot of free content.

03


News2You

While completely monetized, N2Y is a great resource for content across all major content areas (ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Life Skills). The resources are leveled and often downloadable. The one annoyance is the materials are available for a set time period and then disappear for new material.

04


CNN 10

Completely free and only a 10-minute video! CNN10 is a daily news-briefing about current events that can be watched through YouTube or the CNN10 website. Carl Azuz includes targeted jokes at the end of each video that some students enjoy. The one downside is the filming schedule may not match with your break schedules.

Other great resources:

Sources marked with ($) charge a subscription to access all content. Sources marked with (%) charge to access some content.

Can we stop Karen?

Photo by Olga Lioncat on Pexels.com

If I see one more video or post with the title “‘Karen’ does _____”, I might go crazy. Don’t get me wrong, bad public behavior occasionally needs to be called out, but “Karen” is not the way. “Karen” and its variations are sexist and controlling.

In case you’ve not been paying attention to trends, “Karen” is a title placed on people (usually white women of middle age) who behave badly in public space. The title is accompanied by a photo or video and shared on social media and sometimes junk “news” websites. There is no standard for what makes a person a “Karen” beyond bad public behavior.

The main problem with “Karen” is that it targets women in public space. Women are already judged, harassed, belittled in public space through catcalling, stalking, etc… To be woman and in public is dangerous to our health and safety. Adding an element of public shaming, which is what “Karen” is, just makes it even more dangerous.

Additionally, social media makes it easy to share images and video in virtual form (Twitter has a popular Karen hashtag). These women don’t give permission to have their picture taken, but it’s taken and shared nonetheless. This act could violate state law, or at the very least the sense of common good which teaches to respect another persons body and image.

“Karen” targets WOMEN. Louder for those in the back: “KAREN” TARGETS WOMEN. You can make the claim that there is a male equivalent, but there is not. Men aren’t being called out in the media (or social media). WOMEN are.

Additionally, there is a low bar for what behavior is acceptable in public. One person was shamed for wanting mustard and mayo on her fries. Seriously?!? Yes, how dare she want condiments on her fries. Or maybe the problem was that she was eating in the first place. Another was shamed for looking at pictures on her phone at a concert. When people start to police and “Karen” (or share in a permanent way) others behavior, we start to devolve as a society. We need to feel safe and able to exist in public space… it is after all- PUBLIC.

So, please stop “Karen”. It’s not safe and sexist. Will we make the Karens wear scarlet letters next?

The Bunny Chronicles

A small, but long-term project that I’ve undertaken is the story of Baby Bunny. I want to write and draw stories about Bunny as he goes on his adventures. Thus, the creation of The Bunny Chronicles.

Bunny becomes an astronaut

Why?

I like to write and draw. I will openly admit, I am not the greatest at drawing. But these activities are fun for me. Also, The Bunny Chronicles is a way to create a connection with my son, whom we call “Bunny” in public and before birth.

There are a lot of stories out there aimed at children of all ages. Some stories are great, some are good, and a lot are bad. I take issue with the message or language presented in some of these stories– most recently “Never Touch a Dragon”.

In the book, these poor dragons are abandoned, sold, etc.. for being natural (they are dragons, and that’s okay). Instead of subtly teaching about consent (as “Never Touch a Shark” does), the book teaches bad morals.

I want Bunny to know what is okay and what is not. I, also, want to entertain Bunny. I want Bunny to believe anything is possible through cooperation and inquisitiveness. I want Bunny to become a strong, considerate human being.

What’s the plan?

I like to plan, though they often go awry. As of now, I plan to upload more portions of The Bunny Chronicles every two months.

Teaching: College vs. High School

Having taught in both the college and high school settings, I thought I would share some insight on the major differences. I’ve talked to people who don’t understand the differences between the settings as they have only worked in one or the other.

First, teaching in the college setting is comparable to a loose handshake. Friendly, community-focused (getting to know those around you), collaborative. You exist to build a sense of belonging within the community at large– through research, service work, or excellent teaching.

Colleges provide all the resources you could possibly want or envision to support your goals. If you can justify the expense with data or student need, you will probably receive your request. You may have to wait until next budget year, but you will get what you need to teach, research, serve, etc…

Of course, there are still standards you must meet in the design and teaching of your courses. But the standards are often vague, and how you meet them is up to you (the content expert).

Finally, in the college setting my salary was $52,000 per year (non-tenure track instructor).

High School

High school is having nothing and losing hope quickly. There is a lot of burnout and turnover for teachers. In the high school setting, this national trend makes sense. I am expected to spin gold from straw.

One major lack is in the positive attitude of students and teachers alike. Beginning elementary students are happy and excited to go to school. My nephew would smile when talking about the upcoming school year. By high school, students are burnout or tired. Most don’t want to be here. If they do want to be here, it’s not for the purpose of learning. They want to see their friends, get away from home… always something else. Something happens between their educational start and high school… something not so great.

I lack resources to be a more effective teacher. I have a SmartBoard in my room but can’t use it for lack of a cord (that somehow will cost $1000!?!). Copy paper is kept locked in the head teacher’s room, and I must disrupt her class to ask for it if the copy machine runs out. These barriers become exhaustive to navigate and expensive.

I’ve written about it before, but teachers are expected to meet these costs and they add up. I know there exists better, more efficient ways to meet my teaching goals, but can’t access or afford them.

We are also fighting social trends that actively harm our environment and teaching. Specifically, TikTok trends encourage stealing/vandalism of teacher bought materials (computer gear) or the physical space itself. The bathrooms are constantly being locked and repaired due to TikTok vandalism.

In high school, standards (and teaching to them) are KING. We are given weekly lesson plans to follow; deviation is discouraged. We are not to act as content experts. I could walk into the social studies class and probably still know what I was expected to teach.

Another interesting trend, there is no or very little homework assigned to students, even to Juniors and Seniors. Students are not learning time management, self-management, or study skills as they are not explicitly taught. There is no time given the strict lessons provided to teachers (or testing time).

In the high school setting, my salary is $46,000 per year.

The Harm of “Service” in Education

Teaching requires service and sacrifice. If you’re in the field of education, especially if you are a teacher, you will at some point be thanked for your sacrifice. It is always said with a sad, but we’ll meaning smile– one that seems to say “better you than me”. People, within and outside the field, don’t understand the harm this language poses to those in the profession.

There is a harm of “service/sacrifice” language tied to discussions of professions, especially female dominated professions like teaching. Sacrifice language devalues the scope and effort put into work that should rightfully be compensated. When tied to a female dominated profession, such language becomes another mechanism to fight against for equal or better pay.

(And yes, the gender wage gap is a thing. A well-documented thing).

Additionally, the language increases a sense of obligation or duty placed on the employee. “Thank you for your service” implies that you do the work, and will continue to do so. You can’t say no.

But the (often significant) time involved in this service doesn’t help your career. Service is often not a component for evaluation or promotion at many levels of education.

Higher education is the notable exception. While colleges/universities have service as a tenure component, the scope of the required service is not explained. And not all jobs are created equal. Certain jobs/duties carry hidden prestige, while others are just time eaters.

However, you can’t say no. Refusing service, even time-consuming service, means you will not be offered service or duties later. You are viewed as a non-team player.

But we must make a stand against unpaid, unrecognized work.

Just say no to service. We deserve to be paid.