Why Teachers Are Walking Out

For the last ten years, I’ve been a covert operative in Women’s World, a.k.a. Public School.  I am not a typical elementary teacher.  I am male.   And I am often confounded at what I have seen my coworkers silently acquiesce to, happily playing along, fueled only by the sense of the purpose they work from.  I am not surprised that teachers in many states have had walkouts.  I am surprised that they waited so long to start.

Obviously, I’m sympathetic to my colleagues.  I’m also sympathetic to garbage collectors, Haitian farmers, and CPS caseworkers.  In comparison, our job might be considered a breeze for the pay, with its dreamy holiday schedule and all.

Let’s not go down that rabbit hole, though, because the walkouts aren’t really ultimately about “pay,” the face usually presented.

Women are done being taken advantage of.

That’s what this is about.  Don’t think that it’s a coincidence that mass walkouts are happening within a year of the #metoo movements, the sex abuse revelations, or the women’s marches.

It’s not just about pay.  It’s about respect.  It’s about boundaries crossed and people used.  It’s about unrealistic, unspoken expectations systemically enforced, leaving the perceived inability to speak up for oneself.  It’s about a mass of subservient people waking up one day to see the reality of what they’ve been putting up with all along.

When you hear stories and shine light into cultural blind spots, you start to see that there has been wide scale, nationally accepted inequalities kept alive for decades in the dungeons of school halls, among the nations largest female workforce.

Whiteboards?

I was in a data analysis meeting with my female colleagues, needing student whiteboards for math.  (Imagine your teachers back in 1987 requesting an overhead projector.  Basic.)  A good set might run $50.

As a norm, I don’t request purchases from the “company.”  I often forget it’s even an option.  When I mentioned it to a co-teacher on the way to the meeting, she gave me a sarcastic, “Good LUCK…”

I said, “Hey, if this school, on its $10 million budget, can’t afford $50 whiteboards– how do they expect someone supporting a family of 6 on a teachers salary to be able to?” She said she had never thought of that.

She had never thought of that.  This is our culture.  Where you aren’t allowed to think about asking for your needs to be met.

The given is to figure it out.  Because women will.  Had I asked 20 different teachers about whiteboards, 10 of them would start spewing out names of stores.  The other 10 (older) would give me some DIY weekend instructions that involve table saws.  Seldom would any of them think to say, “Umm, ask for them…”

Injustice and oppression thrive in places where the norms are never questioned. 

My boss didn’t think that way, either.  Minutes before, my boss had told us, “We’ll do anything to help you.”  Minutes later, I was met with a kind sigh, “Aren’t whiteboards pretty expensive?”  One of our support staff spoke up, “Didn’t you ask me about those last year?  I’ll get you some.”  And she did.  Possibly on her dime.  I didn’t ask.

The fact that the whiteboards were such a small purchase actually illuminates the problem.

A man’s operative norm tends to be, “since its not a big deal, the company should have no problem helping you out.”

A woman’s tends to be, “since its not a big deal, you should be able to handle it yourself.”

Handle It.

— I’ve witnessed a teacher running a fever, surrounded by nurses taking her blood pressure, get up and stumble down the hall, on her way to wrangle kids.
–I’ve witnessed a teacher passing a kidney stone refusing to go home.
–I’ve witnessed a teacher get punched.
–I’ve witnessed teachers yelled at, demeaned, and criticized, and then go chase down the kid to make sure he is okay.

     And all that was just this week.  

Nothing we handle is a huge deal.  But the sum total of all of the straws on the camel’s back have become a crushing weight for so many.

It’s not about the pay.  It’s about all of the ways an entire sector of the country’s most selfless givers have been complicit to a system that has evolved to bilk them every way it can:  of their time, their money, their energy, and their emotions.

Pay for it yourself.
Create it yourself.
Stay late and put on that function yourself.
Meet during your time. 
Work during your weekend.
Be kind to people yelling, ignoring, cussing, and hitting you.  Then, make sure they pass the new standards.
…And be prepared to take bullets for them, too.

These things are not said as much as they are collectively understood, much worse.

Tacit expectations are the ones we feel least able to challenge.

See, behind each one of these expectations lies the unspoken threat– “Don’t you love your kids?”

A Woman’s Honor

I’ve learned that a woman will do almost anything to prove she’s a good caretaker and nurturer.  The female honor code is, do it for the kids, no matter the cost.  Don’t ask questions or be perceived as disloyal to your children.

And, while each woman should be responsible for enforcing her own boundaries, we should not be systematically violating them, either.  I want the women of my world free to be fiercely loyal mothers and selfless givers, without some manipulative loser-of-a-school system taking advantage of her selflessness.

But we have an underfunded system who keeps pushing and stretching for every free woman-hour and donation it can get from those fiercely loyal mothers and their Boxtops.

The system, in many places, bears a creepy resemblance to an abusive husband.  If she loses “him” [her job], she feels like she would lose everything.  He constantly tells her she’s not good enough, and has spreadsheets with scores to prove it.  He blames her for the kids problems, and offers no real help in fixing them.   But she stays and puts up with him– because she loves the kids.

He is boxing her in, manipulating her, and implicitly calling her loyalty into question every time she doesn’t bend over backwards to appease him and make him look good.

Should we be surprised that she’s finally walking out?

An Overstatement?

Maybe I am being dramatic (Hey, I’m a teacher).   But contrast this with my white collar buddies in corporate land.  If you do anything work-related, you charge it to the company, and get the airline miles in the process.   Own a business?  Buy what you want for yourself, make sure its “work-related,” and write it off.

Teachers?  They go through a 3-step process involving a waterboarding interrogation in front of a one-way mirror to get some spaghetti noodles for a lesson.  So we just do it ourselves.

Consider “Teachers Pay Teachers”

This one kills me.  It’s an online community of 2 million of us, paying each other for homemade curriculum to get the job done right.  This exists?  I didn’t know we were independent contract laborers.

But no one I know questions it.  My coworkers are happy to shell out their own dollars because, in their minds, they are helping some poor sister in south Georgia trying to supplement income.

Imagine a bunch of nurses buying morphine from one nurse who makes it in her basement, when the hospital won’t give them enough.  Or cops buying tasers from Leroy the Ex-Cop who now hand-makes tasers in his garage that don’t suck.  Or Egyptian slaves buying good brick-making tools from their fellow slaves on the black market.  Shouldn’t Pharaoh be funding this?  Nah, he’s on a shoestring, poor fellow.  I’ll just do it.

Male.  Mind.  Blown.

So, when it comes to things like…
Conferences?  Nope.
Company clothes?  Buy your own school T-shirt, if you love us.
Tools for the job?  Maybe your PTA can donate.  Or DonorsChoose.
Health insurance?  Ha ha.  Ha.
Annual raise?  A cost of living increase, less than your actual cost of living increase.
Bonuses?  Starbucks Gift cards.  From students.
Per Diems?  Travel mileage?  What are those?
Company credit card?  Not in your life. You’d be too wasteful.

But those test scores?   They’d better go up, and up, and up.

Trust

And then, there are the ways we aren’t trusted.

In Texas, we take the STAAR test.  We go through a few of hours of training each year that we jokingly refer to as “52 ways to lose your license.”   It is a State-mandated course that involves a PowerPoint detailing the ways we shouldn’t be cheating.  And if it even LOOKS like we might be cheating, we’re in trouble.

Soooo….. let me get this straight…. You pay us $60,000 a year to be a life mentor for 20 children….  But you don’t trust me not to cheat for my 10 year old on his 4th grade math test?

Consider Hattie’s effect size — famous research that determines the most impactful effects of various educational dynamics.  This poster is in our lounge.

Hatties effect

Greatest effect size?  Student Expectations.   Im wondering, if Expectations of our small humans are so powerful in determining their outcome, why do we keep breeding pathetically low expectations of our large humans?

We don’t enforce higher expectations by being meaner.  Expectations must be paid for.  We treat people as if they are capable, give them the right tools for the job, and stand back to watch in awe of what they do with them.

 

activity-art-art-class-730807

 

Is It Really a Gender Issue?

If you think its just a School culture issue unrelated to gender, you’d be wrong there. And we have coaches to prove it.  The only male-dominated sector of public school gets what they need.  I know, because I was a coach for a year.  That year, our students got new clothes, a new locker room, and new uniforms.   They got free food each week and free rides home.  Coaches got free jackets, free clothes, free food, free conferences, free high-fives, free respect, a free pass on dress code, and a free pass from expectations of student academic achievement in our classes.

But I could not get free multiplication flash cards for my math class that year.   I got more perks, bonuses, and respect in one year of coaching than in 9 years of teaching elementary school.  Its not about ONE person or school, its about systems evolving over time, built on the ways males and females most typically interact.

Waking Up, and Walking Out

It’s not about whiteboards, perks, or paychecks.  Its about a workplace culture that has formed around our most deeply invested, caring, and empathetic sector – our women.

Women, thank God, are waking up.   They are waking up to the same realization that called out Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein.  And they are calling out the system.

I don’t like walkouts, protest marches, or angry speeches.   A decent society shouldn’t need them.  But I do like it when people wake up, and finally say “no more” to a system that keeps demanding more while empowering less.

“I will not just be used or taken for granted.  I matter.”   This is the mantra of the new teacher. 

She is no longer just a glorified babysitter.   She is the master of a skilled profession that combines the rigor of brain science with communication skills, data analysis, public relations, and artistic performance.  She is a talented professional with the job of shaping minds, and a loving parent-figure with the job of nurturing hearts.

You get what you pay for, and if we want good teachers, we had better pony up before she leaves us to go live happily ever after with a company that will treat her right.

I am walking out with her, but mine will be permanent, at the end of the month.

Mine is a personal choice, based on my life goals.   But I do wonder whether I might have stayed longer, were it not for my inability to refuel year after year as quickly as I have been drained.   I love my kids more than ever.  But I won’t enter a classroom another year without a full tank of patience, grace, and joy.  It’s time to refuel.

All of my best wishes to those who continue to do this work, regardless of the conditions.   You are some of the best.  May our society wake up to your true value, and may your needs be fully met.   No matter how the votes turn out, you will always have mine.

451 thoughts on “Why Teachers Are Walking Out

  1. My husband is a lawyer and I work longer days and always work weekends. If he does that, then he gets paid for it. As a special education teacher, not only do I work in the classroom with the students, I have tons of paperwork for my caseload of 55 students. I have taken personal days just to pretend like I’m at work, but I sit at my desk all day and do the paperwork that needs to be finished. Everyday, and I mean, every-day, I work until 8pm and I never get ahead. It’s ridiculous and I feel like I’ve been blinded by my love for my students. $50k a year (after 12 years) and I get paid less than my father did when he retired from the Navy. I’m weighing my options leaving, but I’d be starting out at $30k at the most. I feel trapped, but I know work-life isn’t sustainable and I’m headed for burnout.

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    1. Passion. That’s it! You have a passion to help your fellow man. If it was about money, you’d do something else. Don’t compare yourself to your husband’s profession.

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    2. Do. Not. Listen. to anyone who tells you that passion is your reason and reward. That’s BS and it’s the reason we women continue to be taken advantage of. Isn’t it just so romantic how we suffer for our passion and our nurturing goodness? No. No it is not. Do compare your career to your husband’s, for that is where the truth lies. Continue to teach if you choose to do so, but not if it will make you bitter. I taught for 38 years and I never had a week that was less than 60 hours and never got paid for a minute overtime. I spent thousands of dollars every years. I don’t regret any of it, but I did it knowing that while I loved my work, my passion was not my reward. I just didn’t have any choice and there were not enough women to link arms with, to make a difference. Now there are and I support you all 100%.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. It is not uncommon for teachers to use their personal days/sick time to work on IEPs. There is no time during our typical workday.

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  2. I worked for 40 years as a cultural arts teacher–when my school system pays millions of dollars for stupid standardized tests and I have to beg for every nickel I got–it is shameful–in our district the district office looks on teachers as the serfs of the system–we are the ones that are keeping their jobs. Respect from our community starts within!! When teachers are looked at by how much they make and how many younger teachers can be bought with that fat salary, it is time for change. But we all know that it is the good ol boy network–I hope this article reaches thousands of teachers. It is shameful that those of us who love kids, love learning and are all in are exploited by bean counters!! By the way, those bean counters would not last ONE DAY in a school!!

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  3. If you are a coach, or part of athletics, NO problem- ask and you shall receive. Not only do they get what they ask for, they get a stipend for each sport they coach. I know firsthand, as a former elementary principal, how a superintendent and school board focus on athletics and funnel money that direction. Screw the rest of the staff – they need to relive their glory days. I am out and so much healthier and happier.

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  4. This is exactly why I quit teaching after 25 years. All of it is true and criminal if you ask me. If I hear one more “you didn’t go into teaching for the money” I will lose my mind(or what is left after leaving teaching)

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  5. This is not a gender issue. It is an issue of an unappreciated, underfunded system. I am a 5th grade Male teacher. In addition, I am a head varsity baseball coach and an assistant football coach.

    I was asked last year what I need for the baseball season. I submitted a very modest list of requests and received NONE of them. When you are dealing with budgets only so much is possible.

    Coaches deal with the same issues gen ed teachers do. As a matter of fact, the scrutiny of the position is many times higher than a teachers. And on top of that, coaches put hundreds of hours of work during their off-season just as teachers do. I know it as a fact, I wear both hats.

    Do not try to make this a statement of gender bias or inequality. Men and women struggle equally for support of administrators both in the classroom and on the field.

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  6. My late wife went through all the frustrations described here. She was a secondary English teacher. Nothing swayed her deep sense of duty…… until an unruly student stuck a .38 caliber gun in her face. She quit the profession THAT DAY….. that was the mid- ’80s.

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  7. I quit this August because I was offered a position in Youth Ministry. I had been searching and praying for a way out for years, but being a teacher, especially a special-subject teacher, leaves one with a pretty specific skill set. When I was offered my new position I took a significant pay cut, but my husband and I agreed that what I would get back in emotional well-being was well worth the financial difference. It does bother me that two degrees and almost two decades of teaching experience are now part of my past, and I do miss my kids, but I do not miss the climate of the school system.

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  8. I agree with so many facts in this article. I retired early after teaching 22 years…….reason…….I could no longer accept the bs AND GROSS MISUSE OF FUNDING! When you have community organizers running many local, state, and federal depts of education…..what do you expect! .Federal and state money attached to ridiculous programs that have the prime goal of indoctrinating a generation of our youth into being overindulged , needy, and entitled adults.
    I will be short….teaching was my 3rd career. I saw the constant abuse of funding in our public school system increase solely to benefit politics and a very liberal agenda. Testing is horrid, expensive and benefits only the puppet masters behind the curtain. Tracking students for reasons beyond education…..reminds me of the reeducation camps used in communism for the good of the society. The money poured into testing is obscene. But schools and systems continue to support it. Why? The attraction of promised money with little regard to the laws attached to taking that money. Included are testing requirements, curriculum requirements, discipline requirements, teacher evaluations, on and on it goes. Sounds good right? Any teacher will tell you in reality these requirements have done little to help the actual education of the children.
    Parents are seldom told if ever they have the right to op out of testing. Even threatened by the system because the system must meet certain % to get money. So the money is there……it just never goes to support the staff or “the children “. Nothing will change until the federal government gets out of your communities and a generation of community organizers is replaced by honest, local, educated folks who actually live within the zip codes where the schools are. Do I see that happening any time soon……No.
    I am glad I have no children now in public schools……..I would home school or pay for private education after researching staff and administration political ties. Just look at national and state teacher organizations and do some extended research on many in power within those organizations….then cross reference that with the boards and directors on big testing companies……and again cross reference that with who is funding those companies and lastly reference that with their political affiliations. Bingo! It so easily all fits together.
    All of his arguments are true but the main cause is missed. There is a strong negative under current within our public school system that has little to do with educating our children. Quite the opposite is happening. Our system has lost its purpose and direction…….very sad. And the puppet masters continue to pull the strings and laugh at our stupidity and blindness to their true agenda. Schools are the direct reflection of our society. Right now I am not optimistic about the direction of either.

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    1. “Nothing will change until the federal government gets out of your communities and a generation of community organizers is replaced by honest, local, educated folks who actually live within the zip codes where the schools are.”

      NAILED IT!!!

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  9. God help us if that happened. Parents don’t make their kids do any of their homework. Don’t worry, the rich parents can afford to send their kids to private school. Public school was funded to educate all children.

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    1. What a broad net you cast about how negligent parents are! My parents were very proactive in my public school education, and, thank God they were. Homework was a huge priority that trumped ALL privileges! It didn’t hurt that my Dad was very highly educated and placed a high value on us kids doing well. I remember that when I was just a toddler, Dad had put the ABC’s and 0-9 numbers on the wall of my brother and my room. He had my brother and me reciting the ABC’s and counting by the age of 2. We had Encyclopedia Brittanica, the National Geographic, and a library of books at home to read. Dad was always available to help with homework or lend a hand in research in later year high school studies. He sometimes tutored us when we showed the need… AND we had library cards, and used them. Dad limited our TV time but never limited our library or reading time. He also encouraged us to “go outside and play” to interact with the other kids. Kids teach each other, you know.

      I feel sorry for kids whose parents just toss the kids in school and do little or nothing at home to reinforce their enlightenment. But, I’m sure there are many parents that do take proactive roles in their kids’ educations. I do have several friends that were dis-enfranchised enough about public schools that they either home schooled their kids or sent them to private schools.
      My Dad was an Engineer for IBM. He had grown up on a dirt farm in the southernmost reaches of the Rio Grande Valley during the height of the Depression. His ticket out of abject poverty was education, and it worked, but he had to work very hard to get where he eventually did. He stressed that very emphatically. He also said that education is the ONE thing that NO ONE can ever take away from you.

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  10. I understand the angle of this article being about women teachers, however, men face these same challenges. The problem is that this profession is really harder on a man in aspect of being the “bread winner.” So, to me, pay is more of an issue for men and respect for woman.

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    1. That is such an outdated view, dude. I’m a woman, a teacher, and the sole breadwinner of my family. My husband is a stay-at-home dad because that’s a full-time job in itself and daycare is too expensive to be worth him getting a job just to pay for it. Then idea that men are the breadwinners is old and very often not true at all, and it still comes from the sexist ideals of our past (cult of domesticity, anyone?) and the expectations put on women as carers. So I’m dealing with issues of respect AND being the breadwinner, thanks.

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  11. I decided in first grade that I wanted to be a teacher. I never even considered anything else. I taught 3 years. At that point, I looked around and decided that I was done. You walk into a classroom ready to teach first grade again. You worked all summer, spent most of your summer job income on things for your classroom, only to learn that you will be needed in a 5th grade class this year. They have already parceled out your kids to other teachers. You have one day to pack up your entire classroom and figure out how to teach 5th grade. Or, you work for weeks on a proposal for a rewards program involving local merchants, and your principal takes it to the superintendent claiming it as her own idea. At that point, I gave up. That was almost 30 years ago. As I approached retirement, I decided to open a small home daycare. Every moment is a teaching moment, my parents love and appreciate me, and while it took a few decades, this is where I was meant to be.

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  12. I am searching and praying for a way out. I wish teaching was fulfilling for me, but I always feel as if I can’t speak my mind or do what I think is best. I always spend too much of my own money in my classroom.

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