In 1994, I turned 22, got married, and started teaching within 30 days of each other. I was just a baby and I was walking into a room filled with kids nearly my age who I wasn’t really ready to teach… student teaching was so supported… now I had a room full of kids and no mentor to help me.
I am a GenX, so my first teaching years we still had a mimeograph machine and the new and improved RIZOGRAPH machine. We had no phones in our rooms and school doors were unsecured, so I got cornered once by an angry father alone and nervous. We had no computers, the typing classes were still using typewriters. By year two (95-96), the school bought its first set of computers for a lab in the library.
I wouldn’t wish teaching without technology on any younger teacher! It is SO MUCH EASIER NOW… but with that technology has come a host of issues. Both for our students and our teachers.
We know that students are faced with bullying, body image stress, and access to content that my generation never had at their fingertips. We talk about how this affects our students and their mental health, but I don’t see much talk about how this affects educators and THEIR mental health.
In my first… 20… years of teaching, social media was growing, but didn’t have much influence in education. The last few years, nearly everyone is connected and is receiving a constant barrage of messages with unachievable goals for perfection, what teachers should be and do, and bashing of our profession. In my first 20 years of teaching, a handful of people left the classroom in their first few years to raise a family or because teaching wasn’t for them… but the vast majority of people were in it for their full career. Today, that has changed.
All you have to do is log into any social media account and you’ll see stories of teachers leaving the classroom to work in the corporate arena. The message new teachers are hit with when they log in is “I got out, so can you.” They used to tell us not to go into the teacher’s lounge with the cranky old teachers because they’d sour us on education… but a new teacher today can’t get away from the teacher’s lounge. It’s so easy to be soured by education. (And with good reason, don’t get me wrong, the last 3 years have made ME want to quit too… and I have an amazing, supportive district… it’s been HARD).
In IL, it is much harder than it used to be to keep teachers in the classroom because our retirement system has changed. I am in Tier 1 and can retire with 35 years experience at 57 (and teachers can bank up to 2 years of sick leave to get out by 55)… but our Tier 2 teachers who began after 2010 have to teach until they are SIXTY SEVEN. Can you even imagine??? It will bankrupt districts to have teachers with 45 years experience still in the classroom. How do you tell a teacher who is in their early years, struggling, that it is going to be ok when they literally have more than FORTY years left to teach.
One thing I CAN encourage teachers to think of is that there’s no reason not to change districts. Many teachers stay in the same district their whole career. That’s totally fine, but if you’re in a toxic district, GET OUT! I left a sour environment to be in the district where I teach now with only 12 years left before retirement. It is my 4th district and definitely my best move. Our admin is supportive, our board is supportive, and our faculty works well together. Don’t hesitate to find a school that loves and appreciates you for the skill set you bring. They’re out there. They are looking for quality people. And most importantly, they are going to NEED you because the shortage is only getting worse.
Another thing I would encourage is that if you love your job, tweet and post about it. Help teachers who are struggling see that the whole world of education is not in flames. (Trust me, I am not trying to diminish all the flames we are walking through in education right now. But there are places that give you the right protective gear to navigate them.)
Lastly, share your failures. I have grown more from my failures than I have from my greatest successes. If other teachers can see that they’re not alone in failing, it gives them a set of arm floaties to support them as they try to swim through their first years (or maybe even later years) of teaching.
I thought I had to stay in education until retirement because that was the message I got as a young teacher. The door wasn’t open to me. That door is WIDE open today. How can we as teachers and administrators make the open door to the classroom look more attractive?