This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The legislative Interim Committee wonders why the teacher attrition rate is high. As a retired teacher, perhaps I can shed some light.
A few years ago I spent a summer teaching in Kenya. Before going, I had a cerebral understanding of poverty and life in a third world country based on what I'd read/seen on CNN or 60 Minutes. But before actually experiencing it first hand, I couldn't possibly comprehend destitution. Just a couple of months of the sights, sounds and smells taught me that knowing about poverty and understanding poverty are not the same.
Similarly, college grads become teachers thinking they know what to expect, but the demands are overwhelming, supports limited. Legislators and administrators whose experiences in teaching are non-existent or long ago may not fathom modern classrooms.
Many educators are chagrined by testing requirements and paperwork. Some struggle with limited technology or reel as they fight inadequate copy machines, heating and cooling issues, and other structural challenges. The pay is not great, respect levels are wanting.
Yes, there's much to worry about in public education.
Just look at basic finances. When I started teaching in 1983, I was allotted $12 per student to purchase all teaching materials except copy paper. That had to cover every pencil and crayon, bulletin board cut out, file folder, etc., for the entire year. In 2015, my per-student allotment remained $12 per student. An additional few hundred dollars of legislative funds were appropriated, but the truth is, teachers, especially in elementary schools, and most particularly in Title I schools, must spend a lot of their own money to provide the education students deserve.
Another critical issue is teacher autonomy. Previously, elementary teachers designed schedules and learning goals and solved problems based on professional judgments. Nowadays, schedules are dictated down to the minute, with little or no flexibility. Many learning goals come from administrators and legislators, and every child is expected to meet them, regardless of where they started, or what challenges they may have. And play time or the arts? Not a priority!
Additionally, a student can miss 20, 40 or more days in the year, and teachers are still expected to prove that projected learning growth has occurred. Whether due to illness, vacation, suspension or indolence, children come back after missing a day, week or month, and teachers are expected to pick up the slack. The responsibility for these students can be weighty on the hearts and minds of caring educators.
Thinking optimistically, it's not that legislators or administrators don't care or don't want to help. Honestly, funds are limited, there's a lot to do, and people who are several steps removed from teaching make the decisions. They don't know, in a real sense, what it's like to deal with a class of 32 little kids, some who haven't had breakfast, others whose parents are in the middle of a messy divorce, others who are struggling with English, others with disabilities … the list goes on.
Every field has challenges. In my case, the thing that got to me in the end was the feeling that I had absolutely no voice to improve the system. As a lowly teacher, one who loved my classroom, my students, and my community, I'd become tired of being patted on the head and told to just deal with the status quo. Sadly, the joys of the work were ultimately undermined by the frustrations of the system for me, and, I suspect, for others, as well.
Why are teachers leaving education in droves? The real question is, why do some keep hanging around?
Judy Mahoskey retired as an elementary school teacher this spring after 33 years in a Title I school. She is nationally board certified, holds a master's degree, reading endorsement, math endorsement and ESL endorsement.