When I started teaching in the ’90s, I had no intention of “retiring” after only 20 years, but that’s what ended up happening. The stress and frustration were damaging my health. I went from having a migraine almost every single day since January to having only five since June 18, the last teacher workday of the school year.
State leaders are to blame for the teacher exodus – by increasing the paperwork, requirements and hours we had to spend outside of the school day working on mandatory things. Officials threatened to write us up if we didn’t comply with the impossible mountain of tasks we were obligated to get done each and every day. We worked from dawn to dusk and still didn’t finish with the daily required work. We worked until the evening custodian did his last rounds, and then took the work home with us and worked until bedtime.
They took away our personal time with family and subjugated our dignity. They belittled our intelligence and our dedication to the craft and art that is teaching. They insulted our professionalism and work ethic. They demanded that we differentiate instruction for the students but then, hypocritically, required us to become “cookie cutter” teachers.
We stay out of loyalty to the children, but when we are all used up and burnt out, we leave the classroom or suffer nervous breakdowns, heart attacks and all manner of other ailments. They tell us the children can’t learn when we’re out, that they learn best when we’re there, but then they don’t support us or back us up when we have to send a disruptive student out of the room or when we are being verbally assaulted and threatened by the parent of one of our kids.
When we are physically sick and call to arrange for a substitute, we are told there are no substitutes available. So, we have to go to work in unhealthy states.
When exactly are we supposed to take care of ourselves? Leaders are not content to work us 14 hours a day – they require weeks of professional development in the summer, too. They don’t pay us commensurate with our abilities, experience and education. As if that’s not bad enough, they begrudge us the teacher assistants who are vitally important to us. Our textbooks are literally falling apart because there hasn’t been money to buy new ones for the last 10 years, and then when we make paper copies to be able to put materials in the students’ hands, we are told that we’re using too much paper.
We told state leaders years ago what was happening in the schools, how we felt, and they ignored us. They’re still ignoring us. Their actions and words demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don’t care about us. And so, by default, they cannot possibly care about the students.
It has been proven time and time again that happy workers are loyal, productive workers. Why, then, do our superintendents, administrators, lawmakers and politicians scratch their heads in befuddlement when they can’t retain good teachers or when we leave our fair state or the field of education?
Amy W. Goss lives in Randleman.