This past week, Louisiana middle school teacher Deyshia Hargrave was thrust into the national spotlight after a marshal removed her from a school board meeting, pushed her to the floor, and arrested her for having the audacity to question her superintendent about the $38,000 pay raise (and car) he’d just accepted.*
Hargrave graduated from college in 2007, which means she’s been teaching for about 10 years. In 2016, she was named her district’s Teacher of the Year. She’s pursuing a master’s degree in administration. She’s reportedly outspoken, described as a “passionate education advocate,” who has “given her voice for many of those she works with,” according to the school’s write-up of her award.
She’s also clearly disgruntled. Her comments reflected frustration over teacher pay, burgeoning class sizes, increasing hoops to jump through, and a lack of recognition for the hard work teachers had done to improve scores in the district. She called the superintendent’s raise a “slap in the face.” That’s a teacher who’s not real happy with her employer. So what are her options, and if you find yourself in a similarly dissatisfying situation, what are yours?
In his book Originals, Adam Grant identified four options every disgruntled employee has. They are:
- Persistence — You grin (or don’t) and bear it. You keep working hard, accepting that nothing is going to change.
- Neglect — You mail it in. You show up but just go through the motions. Neglect describes the 57% of teachers who are not engaged at work.
- Voice — You try to change your circumstances by speaking up and fighting for change.
- Exit — You quit your job and find one with better circumstances.
If you take no action, the status quo persists. So only two of those have the chance of changing your situation.
You can work to improve things or you can walk.
Hargrave has obviously chosen to fight. That’s a perilous choice in Louisiana. As she herself referenced in her comments, Louisiana legislators, assuming, as many legislatures have this last decade, that their teachers are likely pretty shitty, passed Act 1, which weakened tenure protections and gave principals and superintendents the final authority in personnel decisions, meaning they can more easily cast off the dead weight (or, you know, teachers that are mouthy and bring negative attention to their districts).
Hargrave explained that she was speaking for others because they were afraid. “I feel like I’m speaking on behalf of more than just myself, more than just Kaplan teachers, I’m speaking as a group,” she said. But given Lousiana’s legislators’ contempt for teachers, one has to wonder what will become of Hargrave when the furor dies down and the illumination of the national spotlight turns away.
The only other option Hargrave has is to leave. No one could blame her if she did. After all, I don’t know too many people who would want to continue working for:
- a boss they don’t respect
- a district that doesn’t give its teachers raises for years, in spite of improved outcomes.
- a Board that responds to legitimate concerns voiced at a public meeting with removal and arrest
- A Board President that refers to a former Teacher of the Year as a “poor little woman.” SOURCE
But here again, teachers like Hargrave are presented with a dilemma. While leaving might make the most sense, it’s not such an easy choice for a veteran teacher. If you’re an engineer who feels disrespected by your employer, you can quit and go work somewhere else without much consequence. Same goes for doctors, lawyers, managers, and nearly every other professional. Indeed, research shows that those who change jobs frequently make more money over their careers. (Read why here.)
But thanks to salary schedules and the way incentives work in education, Hargrave can’t leave without sacrificing thousands of dollars. Having 10 or so years in with her district, she stands to ruin her career earnings if she opts to leave a place where she’s grown disgruntled.
Here is her district’s salary schedule:
She’s probably making somewhere around $42,000 a year. In a just world, a former Teacher of the Year with a track record of results would be able to send her resume to nearby districts and make more money. But that’s not what happens in education. There is a far greater incentive for districts to control costs than there is to improve student achievement. So even though Hargrave (and thousands of other veteran teachers across this country) could improve a district’s outcomes, most won’t pay them for their expertise. Hargrave would be lucky to get five years and she’d most likely start at Step 1 in her new district, costing her thousands of dollars.
Hargrave is doing the only thing a veteran teacher who wants the benefits of mobility can do: become an administrator. One study in Texas found that the average tenure for a high school principal is just over three years. It’s not because principals are especially nomadic. Education is hard. People get worn out and seek a fresh start. Administrators can start anew without taking a huge hit in pay. Teachers, thanks to salary schedules and hiring districts’ penny-pinching, can’t.
We can feel bad for Hargrave. But this is about thousands of effective, dissatisfied veteran teachers just like her. Some of them risk their careers by fighting for change. Some give up and quit the profession altogether. Some quietly persist. But many, many teachers are just showing up, going through the motions, putting in the hours until they can retire. That’s bad for everybody, but given their poor options, can anyone really blame them?
* Technically, she was arrested for “remaining after being forbidden” and resisting an officer. But she was removed for asking her boss a question that the Board President deemed non-germane, even though it was totally germane.