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Should You Stay, or Should You Go?- Addressing the Debate Over Teacher Attrition

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted. I took a short trip to anxiety town, and then I took my youngest to see my mom. I’d much rather visit my mom than relive the anxiety that has been haunting me. Anywho, I digress.

What I really want to talk about is something that I’m seeing debated on social media these days- teacher attrition. In one camp there are the teachers who are leaving the profession and telling everyone exactly why on their social media of choice. People are reading what they’ve been through and patting them on the back for taking care of themselves. In another are the teachers who are sticking it out, and some aren’t real keen on the “quitters” getting applauded for leaving.

Hmmm…Who is right? Well, in my humble opinion both are correct. You feel what you feel, and you can take only what you can take. As someone who has been at the mercy of a teacher who doesn’t want to be there, as a student and a colleague, they need to leave if they aren’t happy. And it doesn’t matter the reason. The problem is that teachers are seen as these unique creatures who are called to do what they do. They don’t do it for money. They know they will NEVER be rich. But they get up and go to work and deal with everything because of the kids. Heroic, right? Maybe. Without a doubt, some of them are heroes. And most of them feel called. So why is the decision to leave this job charged with such strong emotions?

If a retail manager decides to leave their job to pursue a career as a stockbroker, does anyone even notice? Do you have an opinion about it? Should you? Probably not. Why then do teachers and people in general feel the need to comment on a teacher leaving the classroom? On the flip side of that, does a retail manager post a diatribe about the reasons for their career change on social media? Probably not. So why does a teacher feel the need to do so?

I think it comes down to emotion. Most teachers I know feel very deeply about what they do. They are proud. They can rattle off the names of former students that have done incredible things. They jump for joy when a kid makes a huge leap forward. Most jobs don’t have that kind of impact or reward. And I think teachers WANT to stay, but they have to draw the line somewhere. We all do. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard (or contemplated) for leaving teaching:

Teaching Experience Isn’t Valued- I know that, prior to my current job, I was ready to throw in the towel. I wasn’t happy with my position, but I couldn’t get an interview because I had so much experience. Sounds counter-intuitive, no? Shouldn’t you want people with experience doing a job versus one with no experience at all? Not in most districts. They want the new teacher because they don’t have to pay them as much. I absolutely love my job now, but God forbid anything should happen in the future. I’ll just have to stick it out because I don’t think I can get a teaching job anywhere else in my immediate vicinity. I would have to move somewhere that is under-served or out of the way.

Administration- Luckily, the administration at my current school is out of this world amazing. I know I’m super fortunate to be able to say that, and it was definitely not always the case. Teachers aren’t supported, they’re asked to do to much, they aren’t treated as college-educated professionals, and parents are allowed to dictate things they shouldn’t. Their time isn’t valued, i.e. unnecessary meetings, pulled to cover classes, asked to do someone else’s job, and it’s supposed to be a given that they will work beyond their contract time. I’ve experienced bullying from administration, but I’ve also just been completely ignored. The admin in the building are supposed to be the educational leaders. If you have that, like I do now, hold on to it! If not, that’s when you start to weigh the pros and cons of staying in your current position.

Parents- I actually feel like this somewhat goes hand in hand with administration. If your admin supports you, has your back, and doesn’t throw you under the bus, parents become easier to manage. I will also say that I no longer work in the town in which I live, and that makes a huge difference as well. There’s something to be said for being able to go to Wal-Mart and not run into a parent who wants to talk about their kid. Or worse, yell at you about their kid. Parent communication can be such a positive, but when it comes to parents who are being unreasonable, they can make it very difficult to do your job.

Kids- Many people have said that kids have changed. They’re more disrespectful, whinier, entitled, and just plain spoiled. Recently I read an article that basically said that kids haven’t changed, as many people attest, it’s the parental and societal expectations of kids that has changed. I’ll have to agree with the latter. I think kids are kids no matter what. They want to feel cared for and listened to. They want boundaries, and they will push until they find the line. They can be disrespectful, but so can many adults. I think you have to take each kid and meet them where they are. I also had to realize that I will never be liked by everyone. It still stings when a kid says something unkind, but I now know I have to figure out how to get students to be willing to learn in my room regardless of whether they like me or not.

My final conclusion is this- You have to do what’s best for you. When it comes down to it, you can’t fill a water glass with an empty pitcher. If you cannot do your job effectively anymore, it really doesn’t matter what the reason is, and it also doesn’t matter what other people say about your choice. You shouldn’t look down at someone who decides to take a different career path, but you can still have the highest respect for someone who sticks it out. I think teachers are portrayed martyrs sometimes, but if they’re like me, they just know there is nothing else out there that they would want to do, so they just keep looking for a school that is the right fit. I have found that, and the last five years there have made up for the 15 years before I found my current school home. I hope you do what’s right for you and find a happy place to do it!