Half Of Teachers Don’t Like Their Jobs

I wrote an article near the end of last school year titled, “Most Teachers Don’t Love Their Jobs.” I held off publishing it for a number of reasons, one of which is it’s never a good idea to write anything near the end of the school year and allow others to read it. Another reason was I wasn’t sure if I was right. This is true of almost everything I write, but in this instance, the self-doubt was particularly strong. And, also, I knew that such an article would not be received appreciatively. I even tested the waters — focus-grouped it, so to say –by asking the following question on Facebook: If teachers love their jobs, how can they be excited about not doing it for two months?

Responses were as expected, but perhaps that’s because those comments were in a public forum where colleagues, bosses, parents, and students might stumble across them.

I have reason to doubt at least half of those responses because I keep running across data that suggest my original hypothesis was, if not exactly true, then more true than we would like to admit or believe.

There are a lot of teachers who do not like their jobs.

WHAT TEACHERS SAY

Spend some time with teachers and you will likely come away believing that they really love what they do. Many of them will straight up tell you, “I love teaching.” Some come close enough: “I just can’t imagine doing anything else.” Others will acknowledge some frustration, but convey that, on the whole, they’re satisfied with their profession: “The administration (or parents, or paperwork, or lack of trust, or stupid laws, or stress) is awful, but I love the kids.” Some go further than mere love. For them, teaching is a “passion.” A few even elevate teaching to the level of the clergy. For them, it is a “calling.”

I have no doubt that there are some teachers reading this who really do love their jobs (and also no doubt that they will let me know in the comments). I have less doubt that most teachers have felt this way at some point in their careers. I’m also positive that there are moments (maybe even a fair number of them) when teachers love their jobs. And I’m sure that it’s true that many teachers really can’t imagine doing anything else. (I know I can’t. I’m pretty sure I’d fail miserably in literally every other profession.)

But the data suggest that at least half the teachers who claim to love their jobs just don’t.

THE DATA

According to a 2014 Gallup report, just 31% of the more than 7,000 teachers surveyed reported being “engaged” at work. That’s in line with the general American workforce, which self-reports engagement at 30%. So it doesn’t seem as if teaching is any more engaging than any other job, and it’s hard to imagine loving (or even liking) a job you don’t find engaging.

2015 AFT survey of over 30,000 teachers found that 89% of them “strongly agreed” that they were excited about their jobs when they started their careers, but by the time those teachers took the survey, just 15% still felt that way. The same survey found that 73% of teachers found their jobs “often stressful.” So teaching, at least for those who’ve done it for more than a few years, is unexciting and stressful. Not typical characteristics of things people love.

58% of respondents in the 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, a poll administered to almost 5,000 teachers and school staff across the country, reported poor mental health for at least a week out of the previous month.

But the one that really got me was this graph, one of many produced by CEP in a report titled, “Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices.”

About half of the teachers surveyed agreed with the statement, “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it,” and they would leave the profession altogether if they could get a higher-paying job.

Think about that.

Assuming this is a representative sample (it claims to be), half of America’s teachers think exactly the opposite of what almost every teacher claims, that in spite of the challenges and frustrations, teaching is worth it. Half our teachers are telling us that, actually, it isn’t.

And while at first blush it shouldn’t be surprising that anyone would leave one job for a higher-paying one, in the case of teachers we’re talking about people who already made the choice to forego higher salaries when they decided to become teachers in the first place. What the graph really says is, “This job is nothing like I thought it would be.”

But perhaps you don’t believe them. After all, we all know plenty of educators who like to complain and most teachers keep on teaching. It’s actions that matter because people’s words are often self-soothing stories they tell themselves. Actions are tangible and measurable. As Emerson supposedly said, “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” So what do teachers’ actions reveal about how they feel about their jobs?

WHAT TEACHERS DO

Chad Aldeman spends his days (and probably his nights) studying and writing about pension plans. Because the plans involve billions of dollars, states make careful assumptions based on what teachers do, not what they say. According to Aldeman, “States’ own assumptions show that, on average, more than half of teachers do not receive any employer pension benefits because they leave before they are eligible. Just one in five stays on the job long enough to receive full benefits at retirement.” So in spite of a strong financial incentive to stick it out, four out of every five teachers, a fair number of whom undoubtedly claimed to be passionate about teaching while they were doing it, don’t make it to full retirement age.

If teachers love teaching, not many of them love it for long.

The few that do stick around get out at pretty much the first opportunity. Aldeman writes, “Out of 100 teachers who are still teaching at 55 years old, the median state assumes that 65 will retire by their 60th birthday, and only 8 will remain teaching until they reach age 65. That is sooner than U.S. averages for all workers.”

That’s not exactly the behavior of people who see their job as a calling.

Source

WHY IT MATTERS

So why does it matter? Where’s the harm in teachers lying about how much they enjoy their work?

First, the truth, even when it tastes bitter, is more important than a lie.

Second, current teachers owe the truth to aspiring teachers so that young people can make informed career decisions. Half of teachers should not suddenly realize, once they start doing the job, that it’s nothing like they thought it was going to be and they should have gone for the money instead of whatever ideal they thought they were choosing. The gap between the expectations young people have about teaching and the realities of the job probably explain a lot of early career attrition.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, policy and societal expectations are based on a belief that teachers love what they do; that because teachers derive pleasure from their jobs, it’s okay to treat them differently than professionals who don’t.

If you love your job, goes the thinking, then why should we pay you more money?

If teaching is your passion, then surely you wouldn’t mind doing more of it?

If your job is a calling, then what wouldn’t you agree to if it means helping your students and fulfilling your mission in life?

Saying you love your job might easily be interpreted by exploitative people as an invitation to further exploit you. At the very least, it sends the message that nothing needs to change. That everything is okay, and even if it isn’t, we still think it’s “worth it.”

Let’s start being more honest about our work. Teaching is rewarding, but it is also damn hard. It’s draining, frustrating, and stressful, and those lows are occasionally ameliorated by moments of joy, relief, and success. It’s meaningful work, made more meaningful by its challenges.

But it’s exhausting and things could and should be better.

As a nation, we should want more than half of our teachers to love their work and we should start asking why they don’t. The only way change will ever happen is if teachers share the realities of teaching, stop sugar-coating their frustrations with assurances that they love it anyway, and offer suggestions on how to make things better.

Teachers might not deserve to love their jobs any more than anyone else does. But parents deserve to send their children to schools full of teachers who want to be there, and students deserve to learn from someone who doesn’t regret her career choice. Only by being honest about the job will the conditions of it ever change.

17 Replies to “Half Of Teachers Don’t Like Their Jobs”

  1. Amen! I am 16 years in and trying to find something else. I need to make a living and I love my kids, but the job takes over every aspect of your life. Teachers and not listened to by our districts when we say we cannot meet the needs of our kids, we are seen as complainers or lazy. If we say we don’t have time to get it all done we get talked down to by the curriculum people. They don’t see we are trying and pushing and the kids are suffering. I literally had to stop teaching so fast so my kids could understand what I was trying to teach, to hell with the curriculum guide. They say to build relationships but give us no time to do it! Parents let kids stay up until 1030 or 11 pm playing video games or watching tv, how do I teach them when they are asleep? Parents are against us, central administration dumps more on us than we can do… what do we do, we leave! Who pays? The kids! Now to post under a fake name so I don’t lose my job! You wonder why we don’t speak up? Because we can’t!

  2. I’m in my 28th year of teaching and have seen the changes in the last 15 years. I commend the author of this very perceptive article. The change has been that teachers have been disempowered. The paradigm shift is simple. In the 1980’s a teacher was a respected professional and a highly skilled college graduate with a great deal of autonomy in his or her classroom. Teaching was a creative interactive process and we had school district based curriculum guidelines. Today, a teacher is disempowered and we have “instructional coaches” to correct how we teach to the nth degree. We have teams who do “walk throughs” with ipads and checklists, and we have a one size fits all common core curriculum which is to be implemented in an individualized instruction and improvement plan so that all children can learn. We test our children to death, and we punish teachers by paying them less if it doesn’t work out. Fidelity – pedal that bike thoroughly and correctly. Rigor – pedal that broken bike harder.

    1. Well said. This is my 30th year, and it is nothing like it was in the beginning. It was fun to teach back then. And even when I do close my door, teach my babies, and enjoy what I do, all it takes is one PLC meeting, one staff development, to make me leave crying from frustration or feeling overwhelmed and wishing I could do something else.

  3. I noticed that you reported that 92% of teachers retire by age 65. Is this by choice or are they targeted? Sometimes I wonder if Administration views older teachers as outdated and over paid.

    1. Great question!! I’m 61 and started teaching late in life. I’ve spent 10s if thousands to be more educated and certified and all I can think of is “screw full retirement, just let me make it to 10 years so I can get something for retirement!” I also feel that heaviness of being over-criticized and every move watched so they can document any error and get rid of me. You’d think there would be some value in aged and e perienced teachers but hell no! It’s all about money and change for change sake. A new graduate, age 21 is cheaper and more energetic and gullible so that’s what districts and administrators want. It goes right along with the lack of value and respect for older people in our society. They just can’t wait to get rid of us!!

    2. I think older teachers may be targeted. Not because they are older per se, but because they can get set in their ways and not want to try new things. If I were an older teacher and really had a “passion” for my job, I wouldn’t retire when I was eligible. And if those teachers have really been teaching that long, they can’t be easily fired. They have some kind of tenure I’d think. I have NEVER met a retired teacher itching to go back into the classroom. NOT ONE. They play that game of, “Oh, I miss it so much. I miss the kids.” So I say, “Well, you have a choice. Go back. And because you don’t need the money, do it for free!” Crickets. Teachers, especially elementary teachers, are good with BSing themselves.

  4. Gee, I wonder if I teach at the same district or school as I read the other comments. Many times I feel that my fellow teachers are the problem, the reason nothing changes. They don’t join EFFECTIVE associations, they don’t promote the needs of the students to administrators, and they don’t recognize that apathy is unacceptable. When confronted with research, they don’t discuss it, let alone READ it. I’ve been with my district for 16 years, and I am “governed” by people who haven’t been in a classroom in thirty years. I am expected to implement programs, not because it is research based, but because it was something “they” did thirty years ago (before FERPA). I have very little control over what I teach or how I teach it. And if things go wrong, it is ALWAYS my fault for not providing “engaging lessons or activities” never because a child has an diagnosed condition.
    Yes, I love teaching and I love my students, and yes, I spend my money on my students, and yes, I am unpopular with my co-workers and administration, because I advocate for my students and profession. I have to stop now. I have to make lesson plans.

  5. If we were allowed to actually do our jobs in functional settings with realistic expectations (as in small class size, ample planning & collaboration time, sufficient funding, control over our content etc) I love honk all teachers would love our jobs, because nobody goes into this work unless you enjoy helping kids.
    The problem is that our current jobs are unrealistically demanding and our unions lack the power or vision to call for a national strike.

    1. And those things will keep happening because teachers would rather stay comfortable than rock the boat. You can’t say you love something and then watch it go to h-e- double hockey sticks. I remember in the 60s when blacks were fighting for equal rights. They actually fought and put action behind their words. Teachers don’t do that. The pay and benefits make them complacent. If I were the government, I wouldn’t change anything either. Why should it? Who’s actually challenging it in a real way? No one. And guess what? The unions are in it for themselves. And you really don’t need a union to send a message. Civil rights folks didn’t have unions. They got into the trenches themselves. Teachers will NEVER do that.

  6. It’s a hard job. Many of teachers are in teaching because it is their job and it was just a career choice. They did not go into it for passion and desire to educate. It is hard for me not to be judgemental when I see my peer teachers in the zone of minimal effort, doing what “they” want instead of following best practices, and it’s hard being the teacher following them when I have to deal with the results of their minimal effort. So yes, this is a stress. I love teaching and making literacy active and alive to my students. On my staff, I’d say in my opinion, only about 30% of our staff is of that opinion. For the rest it is just a job. You are right, they aren’t happy and it makes it hard for me to be sometimes too.

  7. This is the truest article I have ever read. Thank you for bringing the truth to light! I can honestly say that I like teaching, but I don’t love it. It is the most exhausting and least respected job I have ever had (and I’ve had many). Thanks for reminding me to buy a lottery ticket.

  8. Great article! I think the societal pressure for teachers to “love” what they do is what has been the hardest for me in the past. Can an accountant not “love” accounting, but still do a great job? Yes, they can. I’ve learned that I don’t have to love what I do to still be a good teacher and that is enough for me. Any more being asked is just administrators, parents, and society demanding more of me than they do themselves because they feel entitled.

    I do think part of the reason they feel entitled to own not just my productivity but also my state of mind is because teaching is a majority female profession which makes it easier to feel like you can control and comment endlessly on what we do. Building roads and bridges is an important job (and, ahem, tax payer funded) which should be held up to public scrutiny since lives are on the line, but no one would dare tell a male road worker how to do his job, what to wear down to the detail (ok, perhaps safety equipment), and to work during his free time. But…that is a topic for another day.

  9. I am three years away from retirement, and I for one, can not wait! I started teaching in the 1970’s so I have been teaching for more years than I would like to remember. It is just not fun! The demands have increased but not the pay. I have seen some disconcerting things happen throughout the years. I discourage young people from going into this profession. I know that I probably should not voice my opinion. I just wish that someone had tried to discourage me when I was much younger. Teaching sucks the life out of me and leaves me often too tired to enjoy school.

  10. So, sadly, it looks like the situation is the same everywhere, totally. I am Czech and a retired teacher of English. I left teaching two years ago after 22 school years. Believe me, I have the same experience as you all… 🙁

  11. Fantastic article!!!! I get so sick and tired of teachers complaining on Facebook and Twitter. I hate to say this, but I think many teachers feel stuck in their job. So they lie to themselves. Google “quit teaching” and the results are many. Teachers are unhappy but don’t know what else to do. They can’t imagine doing anything else because many don’t have the confidence or drive to do anything else. And it’s harsh, but maybe not the skill-set either. That doesn’t mean they can’t get the skills, but they just don’t want the hassle of gaining new ones. Teaching takes a lot of soft skills and those types of skills are “easy” to portray. You can’t get away with that as an enigeer. And when teachers keep saying their job is a “passion” or “calling”, I want to throw up. Calling is what Ghandi did. Calling is a nun. Calling is something you’d do without compensation. Teaching is a job. If it is really a calling, then work for free folks! There are tons of schools and local organizations that will accept teachers who want to work for free with open arms.

  12. I have 16 years teaching middle school math. I knew it would not be an easy job after my first year, and thought that I could beat the learning curve by working more hours, perfecting my lesson planning, and obtaining more skills through PD. I WAS WRONG. For 16 years, I have done the same thing… work late at night, early before dawn, weekends, and Summers so I can get things set to make next year easier. IT NEVER HAPPENS. I’ve seen tenured teachers being told they are “team leaders” and never get compensated. I’ve seen tenured teachers get the worst schedules, heaviest class loads, and more preps, all with the expectation that they learn and utilize new technology in the classroom with minimal training. These same teachers LOVE TO TEACH. This is where we are confused… Yes, we love to teach. No, we don’t love our stressful, never good enough J.O.B. The stress has increased to a breaking point, and I just wonder what change will occur. As for me, I have no choice because I need retirement income. I’ll keep doing my best for my students, and for the administrators who come in my room with their ipads taking pictures of my board and anchor charts; and just keep telling myself “You can do this!” “You love what you do!” I have no choice because of my age; I’ve invested too many years paying into teacher retirement.

  13. I also work my tail off, convinced that if I try one more strategy, the kids will want to learn. As a teacher, blaming the kids is the ultimate crime. The truth is, though, kids see no value in learning anything that does not have immediate value for them, and there are no consequences for not learning, They have always passed, because the teachers get in trouble if they don’t. Maybe I could learn not to care as much, but math is a subject with high stakes testing. Somehow, I have to get them to care, but there is always a way out. They know they don’t have to pass. There is always next year, or creating a spoon-fed collection of evidence their senior year.
    Oh well, time to get up and go to work. I try to love it. I really do. But as fun or engaging as I try to make my class, as soon as the math is challenging, they shut down or goof off…which for many, is about 5 minutes into class. I just pray that my new principal is not too critical in her evaluation. She taught family living skills.

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