Monday, November 15, 2021

"I Feel Hated"


"You could never pay me enough to get me to go back to teaching."

This was said a couple of evenings ago by a former preschool educator and entrepreneur who had, by retirement, built a program that served some 600 families across several campuses.

Up until then, she and I had, over dinner, been joyfully discovering that we shared a common vision for young children, play, learning, and development, but when her son half-seriously suggested that maybe the two of us should go into business together she fell into dead earnestness.

"It was already a physically and emotionally demanding job," she said. "Now, with all the Covid stuff and the death threats . . . I wouldn't be surprised if the whole profession doesn't just up and quit.

Research from before the pandemic finds the profession of teaching to be incredibly stressful. According to researchers from Penn State University:

Today, teaching is one of the most stressful occupations in the US. High levels of stress are affecting teacher health and well-being, causing teacher burnout, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction, poor performance, and some of the highest turnover rates ever." 

Forty-six percent of teachers report high daily stress during the school year which places it alongside nursing as the highest rate among occupations surveyed. And this was before Covid. It was before parents and others began to threaten teachers with bodily harm and even death.

Early childhood educators and caregivers are already being paid near poverty wages in most states. People were already leaving the profession in droves. Thousands of vacancies were already being left unfilled. 

Last week, Seattle's Public Schools were among the many across the country that were forced to close their doors because of staffing shortages. In Missouri, they are hiring high school students in order to keep their school's doors open.

From where I sit, the only thing keeping many of us in our jobs is our commitment to, and love for, the children we teach. I mean, it has always been a challenging, low paying, low prestige profession, but now, with so many death threats that the US Department of Justice and the FBI are getting involved, I couldn't in good faith recommend that any young person even consider becoming a teacher. 

We've already seen what happens to our society when the schools close. We are about to discover, I'm afraid, what it would be like to have our schools closed permanently. Unless drastic changes are made, the staffing shortages are going to get worse and hiring high school students, who are still children themselves, is not the solution. Indeed, better pay might not even be the solution any longer. 

My social media feeds are full of posts from educators who are on the verge of walking away. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't write me in despair over the stress and pressure. Yesterday, a friend who has been teaching for three decades told me that the main thing that has kept her going over the years was the gratitude of the families, but now, she said, "I feel hated."

Ours is a profession in the midst of an existential crisis.

Maybe this is how the revolution comes. Maybe the teachers just stop showing up. Maybe it's time for our nation's experiment with mass education be brought to an end. I have no idea what would emerge to fill it, but given the state of things today, I don't think it would be pretty, especially for the children.

That said, I know that enough of us will keep showing up -- for the children and their parents. We will wreck our knees, we will exhaust our empathy, we will work long hours, we will remain on the front lines of a pandemic, and we will even endure the hatred. We will do it for the right reasons. There was a time when I would look at this as heroic, but I'm not so sure any more. 

******

"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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