Soul Crushing.

I recently watched a video posted on Facebook about a teacher shortage in California, titled Where Have All the Teachers Gone?

I agree with everything said in the video, but my post today isn’t a commentary on the video.  If you haven’t watched it, I encourage you to watch it now.  My post today is a result of my own reflections after watching it.

I completely understand why people who would be great teachers choose not to become teachers.  I also understand why some teachers leave the field of education. Honestly, I get it.  Completely.  I have to dig deep to muster up excitement when I hear about someone I know entering the field of education. Unfortunately I  not the only don’t think I’m the only experienced teacher who feels this way.  While it’s not completely about money, it’s no secret that the average teaching salary is a major deterrent for many.  I know what you’re thinking right now and you’re right.  People enter education because of their hearts, because they feel called to teach. Still, it’s hard to accept that input does not equal output in education.  In other words, required education + planning, preparation, data tracking & analysis, conferences and meetings are not commensurate with the average teacher salary, and there isn’t much that teachers can do about it.

I know I’m not alone when I say this, and I know it seems a little cliché to say, but I get a little irritated by the athletes and entertainers are making more than ten times what I make.  Isn’t what I do on a daily basis worth at least $100,000 / year? Don’t misinterpret me—I’m not discrediting people for choosing to be athletes or entertainers.  People become pro athletes and entertainers because they are talented and are passionate.  I’ve heard people say that pro athletes earn such high salaries because of the wear and tear on their bodies, and because the average career length is 3-7 years.  Entertainers make money based on the simple principle of supply and demand.

Forbes magazine recently ranked the world’s highest paid celebrities of 2015:

  • No  1: Floyd Mayweather: $300 million
  • No 2: Manny Pacquiao: $160 million
  • No 3: Katy Perry: $135 million
  • No 8: Tie between Robert Downey, Jr, and Taylor Swift: $80 million each

My reaction to this information is, “REALLY?!?” People enter education for the same reasons people enter athletics and entertainment—passion and talent. And while it is the body of an athlete takes a beating during a career, it is the soul of an educator that can get crushed during a career.

When I decided to be a teacher, I knew that I would be dealing with discipline, grading papers, classroom setup, curriculum planning, and parent conferences. Because I chose to teach special education, I was fully aware of the additional demands associated with special education, such as writing IEPs and monitoring progress. High school exit exams were occurring in some states when I started teaching in 1989. The phrase “teaching to the test” has been around since at least that time. What I had no way of predicting was the increase in workload brought on by local, state and federal entities.  I’ve witnessed this from the viewpoint of a teacher and from the viewpoint as an administrator. While workloads increase for teachers, they also increase for administrators. Data-based decision making and response to intervention make sense in theory, but in practice are significantly time-consuming. But let’s be honest, it’s not even the added workload that is so discouraging.

What’s discouraging is this: Salary is a status symbol in America. It’s also a sign of respect.  In many occupations, employees are given a raise for a job well done or an annual bonus when an organization has done well. Teachers are lucky if they get an annual cost of living adjustment on an annual basis.  To me, the disproportionate salaries and lack of incentives for teachers feels disrespectful.

What’s also discouraging is the fine line between support & standing up for what’s right and politics. This is so big that it will be its own post topic in the future, so I’ll just tuck this away for now.

What’s also discouraging is worrying that your student doesn’t have food at home; or

…knowing that some of your students are staying in a shelter because the parent is unemployed and can no longer afford rent; or

…watching a high school student decline rapidly due to substance abuse and feeling helpless because the family refuses to acknowledge there is a problem; or

…supporting students as they grieve the death of a classmate killed in a car accident or suicide; or

…watching a student with mental illness struggle to fit into a system that is incapable of providing adequate support; or

…worrying about the safety and welfare your students who are in group homes or facilities and wondering if they are getting the care they need or if they are being taken advantage of; or

…worrying that your student isn’t safe at home, or might be abused at home; or

…knowing that no matter how much you care about students, you really can’t save every single one.

Nothing in my own education could have prepared me to deal with any of this.  Nothing in my training told me how to turn off my feelings at the end of the day.  But I have to ask, what am I NOT doing that makes me worth so little in return?

What is truly discouraging is the fact that teachers now have to be prepared to deal with bomb threats and armed intruders. I knew that I was going to put my heart on the line when I became a teacher.  I never imagined I might have to put my life on the line.

What’s even more discouraging is knowing that I am willing to do all of these things for my students because I care, but my heart and my life are not valued by my society.  Again, I have to ask, what am I NOT doing that makes me worth so little?

That is what truly crushes my soul.

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