Q: I don’t get it. With all the sweet vacations, why is it so hard to find qualified teachers?
If it weren’t for the “sweet vacations” I don’t know many who would do it. Unless you’ve been on the inside, you don’t know what it’s like. So let me give you a taste of the reality.
A friend of mine recently left teaching. She was a wonderful, talented teacher. She was bright, innovative, young, and cheerful. She loved her students and worked hard to teach them. But one quarter at an area school beleaguered her out of the profession. I asked if she would be willing to share what caused her to leave. This is her narrative:
“I was assigned a trailer that was way too small for the number of students I had. The trailer had environmental issues that caused constant red, scratchy eyes, sore throats and nasal problems.
“Sometimes major issues such as 8th grade boys physically fighting would happen in the trailers and we would need an administrator as soon as possible. The response time was usually about 15 minutes, and sometimes they never bothered to come at all.
“Students received minimal consequences for major offenses. I knew of kids fighting, threatening other kids, bringing weapons to school, and trying to light a desk on fire, but almost nothing was done in response.
“Students who continually showed disrespect were written up, but they would receive no consequences. Instead, teachers were told they needed to handle their classrooms better. Students knew there were no consequences for disrespect, so it was constant among many students, and that made it difficult for me to teach and even be there. Why would you go to a job where that is happening to you every day and there’s nothing you can do about it?
“There was very minimal planning time and no lunch time at all. Teacher lunches were to be eaten standing up while actively patrolling the lunch room. Principals or the school police officer were almost never in there. Students were let into the classrooms 20 minutes early in the morning, and the last students were not dismissed until 20 minutes after the afternoon bell.
“There were only seconds between when students left the class and when students showed up. This left basically no time for restroom breaks. And the restroom the teachers were expected to use was the same one in the trailer that the students used.
“Students were kept in homerooms for an hour every day. I don’t know why. There was no curriculum and no direction for what to do with them during that time.
“Principals would make up new demands, like teachers must walk all students in a line to their classes. Teachers would have to yell for students to follow the procedure and students would become angry because the procedure was constantly changing.
“I had classes that legally (due to special education requirements) required an aid. But there never was one. When I brought this up, I was told to be patient. I was there for a quarter of the year and I never did receive an aide. Most times I was in a trailer alone with my students, many with serious behavior disorders, learning disabilities, and other health issues.
“Students who did nothing wrong were punished as a whole group. If one homeroom misbehaved, the principals would punish all of the homerooms.
“Several incidents made me feel unsafe in the school. One student caused such a scene (we were never told what he did) that the trailers were put on Code Yellow. That student returned the next school day and was supposed to be in ISS. But he got out, went to the lunch room, stole food and cursed out the cafeteria staff. The principal and the school police officer came to the lunch area to deal with him. The student continued to cause such a scene that teachers were told to take their classes back to their trailers for the remainder of lunch. About 5 minutes after we were there, the student returned to his homeroom teacher’s trailer. When she radioed to the principal that he was back as if nothing had happened, she was told to just let him stay.
“When I tried to address my concerns with my principal through email, I was ignored. When I tried to address them a second time, I was simply told that district policy was being followed. If all of that is district policy, it’s a miracle that anyone at all still teaches there.
“I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to leave. It was hard because I regretted leaving my co-workers. But mostly I felt sorry for the kids who could have excelled, but they were unable to because of the environment.”
Are all schools this bad? No. But there are a lot more like this than you could imagine. And if we don’t do something to instill sanity and order soon, we are going to lose so many children. And a lot more talented teachers will choose to make their “sweet vacations” permanent.