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In December 2020, I wrote an essay, "You Don’t Hate Teaching, You Hate Your School". Though it was only a little over a year ago, so much has changed since then. At the time I was working in a progressive district that was prioritizing everyone’s health while balancing the needs of the community. Today, I am no longer a teacher. I now work in the EdTech industry, one of the many victims of the depressing state of education.
The premise of my original article was that great teachers were leaving - not because they hated teaching as a career, but because they hated where they were. I saw so many skilled teachers leave the profession due to toxic environments: from micro-managing admin to lack of proper resources in the classroom. It broke my heart because I knew they could be so much happier in a school that met their needs.
Changing Schools Used to Matter
This premise was personal to me. My first year teaching was not a great experience. I decided to jump ship to a different district for the next school year in hopes of finding what I was looking for. At the time, I did just that. I landed in a racially diverse district with more progressive values than the conservative district I came from. I had more freedom, my ideas were valued, and I was able to make a deeper impact on my campus than I ever imagined.
I was extremely happy with where I ended up. Meanwhile, I felt for my teacher-friend who had only ever taught in one school and felt the desire to leave the profession altogether. She was an exceptional educator, but because she had only taught in this one toxic school she believed all of teaching would be the same. She is still teaching in that same school, and she is also looking to leave the profession, although not for the reasons she felt two years ago.
There are systemic issues that are bigger than the school or district you teach at. While this has always been true, the pandemic and aggravation of politics in education have elevated these issues. Educators across the country are feeling the pandemic, societal disrespect, and politics eating away at our passion for teaching.
Outside of what has happened in the past couple of years - there are plenty of other reasons teachers can’t leave. Some have been in their current position for a long time, and leaving their district could jeopardize their pay and seniority. In many places across the country, there are no other districts or limited district options to pursue a culture change. Some districts have restrictive transfer policies or negative politics that would create more issues than it would solve.
A System at a Breaking Point
Most recently though, issues in education have reached a fever pitch. In the last couple of years, teacher and school autonomy have been eroded to an unprecedented extent. Parents and school board politics have unleashed a flood of scrutiny on teachers. This is now true even in schools and districts that used to be havens for teachers. The pandemic signaled the biggest teacher exodus in the history of the profession, and it is only growing.
The bottom line: most teachers who leave the profession don’t fall out of love with teaching. They just get fed up with everything that comes with it. It has been said time and time again, but it is true now more than ever: Education has a reckoning coming. A year and a half ago, I believed that any teacher could find the right school fit to recapture happiness. Unfortunately, those opportunities are becoming few and far between. Sadly our love for teaching is no longer enough to overcome these systemic failures.
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