I’m thirteen years into a teaching career with no end or vertical movement in sight. At a certain point many teachers hit a wall, myself included. Certainly this wall relates to the usual strains on a teacher’s time and life in general. The hundreds of hours of unpaid over time. The general lack of respect given to the professionals charged with determining the education of the next generation by the society at large, to name just two.
But there’s another kind of wall, a wall that you can’t see, a wall that acts more as a ceiling, a glass ceiling if you will allow a general metaphor. Teachers hit a glass ceiling. You see, in most professions there is a chance to move beyond the position in the company in which you started. In other words there is at least a chance for vertical rather than simply horizontal movement. In teaching, this vertical movement does not exist except if one wishes to move into administration. Some choose this route. However the limits on the numbers of these available positions within an institution creates a toxic environment. Teachers who badly want to be in a position to influence the day-to-day happenings of an institution they love, are usually deeply connected to, and have given decades of their life to are simply on the outside looking in with no chance of upward vertical movement and no chance to affect change within the institution. The positions are simply full and there’s nothing available. The sheer sizes of certain organizations in the corporate world make the previous inevitability for teachers, an after thought in other careers. In education each institution has a very limited amount of positions available at the influential level and often new-hires for these positions come from outside, as though somehow a person with no knowledge of the internal workings of the institution will be able to affect positive change through the implementation of their own educational philosophy without having any real idea of the history or culture of the institution they’re entering.
Now to address the toxicity crisis this situation creates. The teachers who badly wish to be in a position of influence and cannot, for whatever reason, achieve this goal, become angry. Angry at a system they believe does not respect them and angry at an institution they love but are not in a position to change for the better. The solution many times in education is to ask these engaged employees to serve on various and sundry committees through which their voice might get heard and offers them a place to affect change. Add this to the unpaid overtime. Often these educators are among the most vocal critics of the administrations and boards that employ them, though their critiques come from a place of love and engagement. They are looking for any opportunity to voice their thoughts in the hopes that someone will hear it, value it and act on it, thereby exercising their own agency and achieving some small level of change and respect. These are often what many would consider minuscule issues in the grand scheme of the life of the school, but most likely they carry great weight and significance to the teacher voicing the concern.
Even teachers who leave the profession, loved the profession and more importantly, love their students. Many left and many continue to leave the profession for these and other reasons. Professional respect, financial respect (teachers are generally paid less than other professionals with equivalent or less education and experience), and lack of opportunities for upward vertical movement within an institution that will allow for them to affect change are the primary reasons teachers leave the profession. Some take longer to figure this out than others. I just started my thirteenth year and I’ll come back tomorrow to try again.