Zach and Brittany Long head up a community of over 97,000 teachers at the time of this writing. This community isn’t working on lesson plans or on standards alignment. They help teachers with their career pursuits. Specifically, they assist them in finding their side hustle. In quitting their jobs. In getting hired in new ones.
Their company and community is called Life After Teaching (lifeafterteaching.com) and sets out to help teachers in their life and livelihood beyond their teaching careers.
When Zach left teaching after eight years, he found it challenging to move into another profession. He has been working to help teachers when they have decided to call it a day in education. Their Facebook group doesn’t permit teachers venting or ranting; it’s singularly focused on getting jobs in something other than education.
While YOU are working to keep your teachers in, there are people working to help them get out. But the Longs aren’t our problem. What is? We take a look at that in this issue.
Reports From The Field
It’s a third grade classroom on a Tuesday morning. The teacher leads the morning meeting and begins to go into reading groups.
One of her students doesn’t want to go to groups. As the other students move to their spots he tightens his grip on his head which is lying on the desk. He’s covered his ears on each side with each of his arms, eyes closed.
The teacher approaches him, speaks softly to him to ask him to move to his reading group. She softly asks again.
The student looks up from his desk. He punches the teacher in her leg. She doesn’t draw attention to him. She asks him not to do that again and to let her know when he’s ready to join the groups.
After some time, he does, and he sits with his assigned group for the next segment of the class.
When it’s time to transition again, the other classroom teacher comes to him and talks to him about what is going to happen next in class so he won’t be surprised. She uses a calming voice and follows the behavioral plan in doing so. As he gets up, without warning he punches this teacher too.
The first teacher contacts the office. The administration rushes to the scene where now the teachers are clearing the classroom, leading the students out of the class and leaving the student who had hit them, who was now withdrawn back at his desk and not responding to verbal requests.
The other students exit as if they’ve done this so often that they hardly notice. The teacher keeps a positive face; she’s not angry with the student. She did what she should have done and did them the right way. But she can’t help feel frustrated and tired knowing that it’s only August.
What Departing Teachers Say
National statistics on teachers leaving the profession are sketchy at best. Some states make no reports on that data. The Federal Government, for all of the things they ask schools and systems to track, do not collect data on teachers who leave either.
But for those states who do gather the data, and anecdotally for those of us who are in states that don’t, we have enough information to demonstrate that we have large numbers of teachers leaving education and those numbers have climbed in recent years.
We know that from the numbers of unfilled positions we have as we begin September, from the volume of non-traditional teachers we have deployed, from the scarcity of candidates we have had over recent years.
The reasons that teachers are leaving aren’t very different than the reasons teachers have been giving for decades: working conditions, particularly student behavior; constantly-increasing expectations; poor administrative support; and, salary.
It’s important to note that teacher departures can vary significantly between schools and systems. There’s not one type of school or system that is exempt from having teachers leave since there are many reasons why teachers may do so.
As with most all situations, places with more resources tend to fare better than those with fewer resources. Interestingly, teacher frustration transcends most of the typical dividing lines.
As you read this, you may think, “my teachers aren’t frustrated?” If so, try to analyze what you’re doing and determine what you can attribute it to.
But make sure that your assertion is true. Sometimes the principal can be the last to know.
What can you do to keep your teachers off the frustrated list?
It’s not an event; it’s more of a way of life, a culture if you will. I would recommend that you make regular habits of listening to your teachers. The act itself is considered to be evidence to your teachers of a higher level of administrative support. You get a lot of credit for just listening.
Then you respond. You address particular situations. You look to develop systems and processes that make things run effectively and that they work well for your faculty and staff.
Perhaps the most important thing is the hardest to see. If your people feel supported, then they are supported. It’s not just the things you do but the way you do them.
If your actions seem forced, manipulative, performative or disingenuine, you can be certain your teachers will sniff it out.
Because if you want to create great working conditions for your people, you will be doing that every day, all the time. Working to build a place where students love to attend, teachers love to work, and people are successful.