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Since the start of the pandemic, many educators have left the classroom or are considering leaving. Many cite poor management, staffing shortage, lack of respect, and class management as their reasons for leaving. Three weeks ago Briana Richardson, the middle school ELA teacher also known as the social media sensation Honest Teacher Vibes, left her classroom too.
For Bri, her resignation empowered her to use her platform to share the stories of teachers who are silenced. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Bri about the state of public education and her new YouTube series, Teacher Stories.
The Educator’s Room: Why did you become a teacher? What do you love about teaching?
Bri: I became a teacher because I had teachers that were such a safe place for me in the crazy environment that I grew up in. I had a rough home life in high school. If my twin sister and I came to school and we had a bad morning or just needed a second, my teachers would say, “I know you had a rough morning. You can put your head down for a couple minutes if you need to. You can go to the bathroom. You can get water. Do you need something to eat?” My teachers buffered my hard times. I wanted to do the same for my students. Kids need to feel like they have someone in their corner. I was like my students' auntie in school. That is the thing I love about teaching — the relationships I built with my students.
I kinda fell into teaching. I can’t even remember how I started subbing. I was coaching girls basketball and subbing at one school. Then they asked me to become a teacher’s assistant because I was a pretty consistent sub. Around the same time I was pregnant with my daughter and had severe preeclampsia, so I quit my TA job in March 2018. My daughter was born in June. Then in October or November 2018, I went back to coaching and long-term subbing. One of the principals saw me at a game and said, “Hey, we need a long-term sub for an English class.” They were like, “You already have a Bachelor’s degree, why don’t you go back to school and get your certification?" I was thinking that if I do that it’s going to be in PE. I’m a coach and I have a sports medicine degree. But I started teaching ELA and was like never mind. I love ELA.
I loved being a teacher. And I hate that I had to walk away a couple weeks ago, but it was for the best. For the best interest of my health and the place that I’m at in life right now. There’s only so much teachers can handle without an appropriate system and structure.
TER: What are the main challenges in the education system right now? What do you think it would take to fix them?
Bri: Lack of consequences for student behavior and lack of support from admin. There is a lot of gaslighting that happens to teachers. [We need] a complete re-working of the entire system!
Teachers are in unsafe environments. I had a friend in NYC tell me that a second grader maced her in the face, and they would not let her go to the ER. Even though the paramedics told the admin that this teacher is hurt worse than anybody. They didn’t have the professional courtesy or human decency to let this woman go to the ER. It’s horrible. Admin being scared of kids or trying to be their friends is never going to work out for teachers. Never ever.
You don’t want to say that the problem is not solvable. Everyone wants to ask how we can fix public education. But they’re not ready for the answers we’re going to give. The state of education is really deteriorating. It’s a deeply embedded systemic problem. You would have to have an army of invested people to turn around the public system school in the United States. It’s a messed up system, but for public education it’s the best messed up system we have."It’s an injustice what teachers have to deal with in these schools."Getting Honest About Teaching: An Interview with Honest Teacher Vibes Click To Tweet
TER: What is your hope for your new YouTube series Teacher Stories?
Bri: I hope that it will bring light to the horrors that teachers have to deal with in the classroom. People have no idea what we deal with!
People know that Honest Teacher Vibes is going to be funny. Because that’s who I am. But I have never had an experience like the three and half months I went back to teaching. I was in my classroom sick. Panic attacks, about to pass out, blood pressure sky high. I remember the teacher I was talking to before I got ready to leave. She stood there with me. I remember feeling so sad at the end of the day when I put my keys on the desk and I had the luxury to walk out and she didn’t. She was dealing with the same stuff — health failing, stressed out everyday, no support from admin. When I left and got in my car I felt like I was leaving her behind. For her, I have to tell their stories.
It’s an injustice what teachers have to deal with in these schools. Teachers from all across the country send me their stories. The overarching theme is there are zero consequences for the stuff these kids do. I also want to wake parents up to this is what your kids are doing at school. Some of your kids are absolutely terrorizing teachers. Then we call you for help, and you want to know what we did to your kid. That’s not ok.
I hope that the series gets picked up by bigger news or something that will get these teachers’ stories out there. I want somebody to say, “Are these real?” Yes, they are. I’ve cried. I’ve wept over these stories. Because I thought I was dealing with some crazy stuff. These teachers are dealing with terrible things. People need to know we’re not being dramatic. Because people are like “Why are teachers always complaining?” If only you saw the stuff that we deal with before 8:30 in the morning. You’re still trying to have coffee at 8:30 in the morning. Some of these teachers are out here fighting for their lives at 8:30 in the morning.
The reason that this persists is because teachers can’t say what’s happening to them because they will get fired. But you can’t do nothing to me. Because I don’t work for you [the school system] anymore. I’m mad as hell and I am not willing to back down. I’m going to keep sharing these stories.
TER: What do you want educators to know?
Bri: You are replaceable at school but not at home. Do not let anyone guilt you into staying in a toxic environment. There is such a guilt trip environment in education where it’s not necessarily a stated rule, but it’s understood that it’s frowned upon. You’re given those sick and personal days, but it’s frowned upon when you take one. Take your days. Use your days. If admin says “Well we don’t have any subs.” Say “ I have the time and I am going to use it. You not having a sub has nothing to do with me.”
There is no job that’s worth your health. I know there’s a lot of times where teachers feel like they don’t have another option. And there’s no way out. Baby, we can look for you some ways out. Because nobody deserves to have a stroke and die at school. Nobody deserves for their mental health to be failing. There are career coaches that help teachers transfer out of teaching. And I want to find resources for teachers so they know their options for leaving.
TER: How can educators share their stories with you?
Bri: They can email them to email@example.com.
Much thanks and appreciation to Bri for participating in this interview. You can find Honest Teacher Vibes on Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. You can also find Bri on The Bored Teachers Comedy Tour 2022.
This interview is a part of Educators Unsilenced, a monthly interview series on The Educator’s Room by Lanee Higgins. Each month Lanee interviews educators making their impact on education. See last month’s interview here.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post stated that 500,000 educators have left the classroom which is incorrect. There are 567,000 fewer educators than before the pandemic either because educators left or their positions were cut.
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