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.


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.


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.


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.


More: Check out Seth’s new book “Pyramids and Trees: Attachment, Addiction, Empire, and a Nation Bursting Forth.”

Or visit the podcast.

460 thoughts on “Why Teachers Are Walking Out

  1. Twenty years high school special education; learned to have a sense of humor daily, pray for all teachers and students before I leave my car in the morning, do the best I can do and tell myself it is ok that I was not perfect today, it’s ok a student failed Algebra; he/she made their choices to sabotage themselves, it’s ok the IEP is not perfection- I am not a robot and I can do an addendum if needed. I am deciding to retire this year—if I work until 65, this job may kill me. So I am reinventing my next chapter-I am tired of public education problem solving—I want new challenges and new passions👩‍🎨. I’m shaking it up. I worked as administrative assistant in NYC, got my M.Ed. At age 42, taught 20 years and what fun I will have the next 20! I applaud you all! You are amazing teachers👩‍🎓👨‍🎓👩‍🎓👨‍🎓👩‍🎓👩‍🎓👩‍🎓👨‍🏫👩‍🏫

    Liked by 2 people

  2. $60,000? I have 21 years teaching, a Masters Degree + 36 credits and don’t make $60,000. I wish. I teach 5th grade. Improvements (new tech, whatever) always start High School down or Kindergarten up-we’re the last to get anything-then it’s usually used. It is discouraging


    1. Same in Austin, Tx… our cost of living is so high, I might have to move out of Austin and commute in if I want to keep my job. I can’t afford to live in the same city where I teach bc the district doesn’t pay enough.


    2. Same. Have taught for 25 years with a Masters degree and not making $30,000. Money is not everything but to be able to support yourself on one income would be nice. Thank goodness my husband makes decent money but that’s not the point.


    1. I have a Masters, 12 years experience, special ed, title one…placed out of field a few weeks ago with 2 ASD kindergarten classes, do all the planning for both, all the IEPs for both…Teacher shortage is very real and this article outlines it all. I am going to get a grad certificate and become a BCBA!


  3. Teachers are unsung heros that deserve hazardous duty pay. The actions of children in schools today would have never been tolerated when I was in school. The sad thing is, parents today don’t discipline their kids at home. Therefore teachers take the fallout at school. I salute all teachers. Yes I am OLD SCHOOL ! We need to go back to old school ! It works !


  4. 60,000 after 21 years? OMG! Where do you teach…..I’m at 85,000 after 20 years. I only have a Bachelor”s degree


    1. That makes me cry. I live in Texas, and after 10 years, I’m barely making 50K. Where do you get paid 85? I’m already packing.


  5. I am still teaching and I am 70 years old and I still don’t make $60,000. If salaries go up it won’t help me. I will probably retire at the end of this year. Everything in this article is so true. I do hope that someday people will realize what teachers really do.


  6. Retired after 36 years. $70,000. Pretty low for public school in New England. Easily spent $1,000-$1,500 each year. One year it was over $2000. Would ha e gone a few more years, but expectations were ridiculous.


    1. In New England? That’s outrageous! I make over $90k with a MEd and 17 years’ experience in MA.


  7. I left teaching 8 years ago. I was creative and loved my students but left for the reasons outlined in the article. My salary has increased by 120%. The work I do now is challenging and fun and I use every last skill I sharpened as a teacher. I feel respected for the work I do. Truthfully even on my worse day, the stress pales in comparison to the stress I felt everyday as a teacher. I am so proud to see woman finally standing up for themselves.


  8. I have a Masters, 12 years experience, special ed, title one…placed out of field a few weeks ago with 2 ASD kindergarten classes, do all the planning for both, all the IEPs for both…Teacher shortage is very real and this article outlines it all. I am going to get a grad certificate and become a BCBA! Making under 47,000 in a high cost of living area.


  9. I’m starting my 24th year. I have a bachelors degree, Bilingual and ESL certified, 516 hours of training in just the last 4 years. I have my 30 hours Gifted and Talented certificate. We are pressured to perform (test scores). We have a Data Room with a Data Wall with your name and each unit test scores up for all to see, score shaming is more like it than data analysis. We meet daily for 45 minutes with our grade level content area for PLC’s. We tutor after school (mandated) for $15 for the extra 30 minutes past our “official” workday. We got a raise this year…I”m only at $56,000+ and won’t even reach $60,000 by my 30th year. What other professional dedicate 20+ years to their profession and are paid like entry level employees in other fields.


  10. I ressigned today, and I have been working as an Elementary teacher just for three years but I totally relate to the post. For me it is ove, I love my kids and my profession but I love more my health, mental sanity and muy husband. I am sad and nostalgic though…


  11. Expectations can’t be met! 55+ hours a week and still treading water. Factor in all of the special needs children in the classroom, and then being told they should make the same growth. Big tears from new teachers trying to figure out how to do everything asked, and trying to politely tell them, ohhhh, it can’t possibly be done! The harder you work the more that will be asked. If you have great discipline you will get the biggest challenges. The stress takes a hard toll on the sweetest of teachers.


  12. I’ve read all these posts and feel so sad. My mother was a teacher for 25 years and I remember her using her own money the few weeks before school started to put encouraging , colorful things on the walls. Talk for years was always about tenure. My mom was a little wisp of a lady who was assigned to a high school on the “wrong” side of town. She was always optimistic about these poor kids and always trying to get them involved in their education. But, because she was another color her car was keyed, she was bullied in the hallways after school. She used to have to take a Valium before she could go to work. Our weekends ? Always grading papers,making lesson plans, thinking up new inventive ways to keep her kids interested enough to not drop out of school. After she got tenure she was able to transfer to a high school on the other side of town where she could ride her bike to school. She was happier. But, the drive to be a good teacher just about left me alone , like I had no mother. Of course I got in trouble. The teachers I’ve known give 100 % of their time,energy, and love for very little pay. But, I still at my age,66 years old remember a few teachers that Because of their caring and attention ignited me to enjoy school. Graduate from school. Go on to college. God bless women teachers. No, I should say all teachers.


  13. These comments make me so sad. We are professionals and should be paid as such. I’ve been teaching special education for10 years and have my Master’s degree. After our raise this year I’ll be making close to $95k. I know it’s not about the money, but our jobs are hard (total understatement) and it definitely helps to be able to afford a comfortable lifestyle. I live in Southern California and teach in a very low socioeconomic area. My kids are very challenging, but overall my district is great and I love my job.


  14. I’ve been working as a teacher for 4 years. I don’t even clear $38,000 a year. I’m getting depressed just writing this out.


  15. Just retired after 40years. No masters but 40 years of seminars,workshops,professional development many on my own time and $. Plateaued at my final 3 years $85,000.


  16. I taught 26 years. I had a masters + 47 hours, and National Certification…..highest salary, $55K. Really a sad state of affairs. I loved teaching but was very happy to retire. I returned to volunteer twice a week in one of my former districts and was suddenly loved and appreciated like never before. If I went out of town I was told to have a wonderful time and PLEASE hurry back. It is great, but of course it’s also salary free, lol I make sure to take a treat to the teachers I help out at least once a month and thank them for their dedication every chance I get. They get enough grief from parents and administrators…..


  17. Been teaching twenty year and it is an abusive relationship with the bosses. Forever worried about the 100s of things that can get you fired. Being told for years there will be no pay raises and that insurance is going up but we should just be thankful we have a job. When we did get a $500/year pay raise, insurance hikes eat it up. Getting bullied by parents and students and the administration just says grin and bear it while we threaten your job in front of the parents. Time to get out, but I do love the teaching and will miss it.


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