If you talk to teachers today, many will tell you reasons they want to leave the field, low pay being one of the biggest reasons. See the aforementioned USA today article for the stats on the highest and lowest paying states, and there is little wonder why teachers are frustrated (especially in some of those really low-paying states). But low wages are not the only reason teachers are frustrated. Problems with teacher evaluation systems across the country (and, frankly, around the world) often force teachers to make the decision whether they want to continue dealing with a system that is fraught with issues of inequity, bias, and unfair warping of statistics. Close and Amrein-Beardsley (2018) talk about these issues in their article, particularly honing in on issues with VAM scores. Teacher trust in principals can either add to or hinder the culture of a school, as I researched in my own dissertation (Arneson, 2012). What I found out is that teachers felt that a principal's character and competence can either build or diminish trust from teachers, depending on the actions, behaviors and characteristics of the administrator. With that sort of knowledge, why do teachers continue to teach?
Here's what I think:
Teachers are still passionate about what they do:
No matter where I travel around the world (from Kenya to Colombia to the Yukon Territory and all around the United States), I hear teachers talking about how much they love what they do. Teachers still share great ideas with each other ("Hey, have you seen this great new website?"; "For a unit about government and economics I would take my students on a fieldtrip to the state capital (Sacramento). We would hold a campaign, campaign speeches, and an election in order to give students background knowledge about our state elections"; "I have incorporated math mysteries, in which students have to “crack the code,” by solving math problems"; " I love jumping into seats and joining discussions. Often when office aids or guest come in they ask, 'Where's your teacher?' "; "I can't think of anything else I would rather be doing!")
By the way, since Dave retired three years ago, I get asked all the time, "So when are you going to retire?" My answer is always the same, "When I quit loving what I do". So far, I can't imagine when that would be. There is nothing more powerful, as a university professor, than to get an email from a student after the course ends in which they state how much they learned from a course. While not everyone thanks me during the course for holding them to high standards, I just received this email from a student in my Education Law course that said, "Just thought I would drop a quick note to let you know how much I have missed you for this last class...just not the same and it seems like expectations are not as high. Thank you again for putting all of us on the right track. I think there are others who feel the same way that I do." I'll be honest----that is worth more than the paper the paycheck I get is written on.
My workshop participants and clients with whom I work also remind me of how pertinent our work is. One of the principals I taught recently told me, "I know you must really miss being a principal. We can all tell how much you loved it. But think about this: look at the number of principals, teachers, and ultimately, students, you are impacting in what you are doing now." TRUTH!
But no matter how passionate I am about what I do, the thing that gets me choked up the most is when I tell the teachers that they truly are impacting the next generation and that Dave and I thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
Just for today, I pray that, if you are a teacher, you know how very much you are appreciated. And, if you aren't a teacher, I pray that you take time today to thank a teacher who impacted your life, whether it was your Kindergarten teacher, middle school teacher, college professor or doctoral professor. It matters.