No, We Didn’t Sign Up For This

sign up

We teachers sure like to complain a lot. At least, that’s what I’m told by people who don’t teach. Here’s one comment left on an article I wrote:

“Quit complaining. Everybody has things they don’t like about the professions they chose but teachers are the biggest whiners.”

Here’s another:

“I know about a dozen teachers. Every single one of them knew going in how much education they’d have to invest and the amount of effort expected.”

One of the most common refrains complaining teachers hear from non-educators is that we knew what we signed up for.

“Hey,” they say, “You knew the score going in, so no bitching about it now.” It’s an argument that, on its face, makes some sense. It’s true that teachers knew at the outset we weren’t going to get rich. We knew the job would be challenging. We understood that no matter how good we were, no one was going to build a monument to us.

But the truth is, the job of a teacher has changed a lot in a very short amount of time.

I started teaching in 2000. I thought I knew what to expect. I doubt I’m alone. Since many big changes to education have happened in the last 10 years, there are likely millions of teachers who are currently doing a job for which they did not sign up. So when our critics tire of hearing us complain and tell us that we knew the deal going in, they are often wrong. There is a lot of stuff we didn’t sign up for.

We didn’t sign up for a Department of Education that doesn’t actually believe in public education.

We didn’t sign up for wage gaps and the “teacher pay penalty.” In 1996, while I was in college deciding to “sign up” to be a teacher, the average weekly wage of public-sector teachers was $1,122 (in 2015 dollars). In 2015, it had fallen to $1,092. (SOURCE) Weekly pay for all college graduates rose by $124 dollars per week over the same period. I might have signed on knowing I wouldn’t get rich, but I sure as hell didn’t sign on expecting to be paid less after 17 years on the job.

Part of that declining pay may have something to do with diminished political clout. Because when I signed up to be a teacher, teachers’ unions still had power. In the intervening years, Republican-controlled legislatures have done everything they can to erode the unions’ influence. My state, Michigan, became right-to-work in 2012. State legislatures around the country have also removed tenure protections, curtailed collective bargaining rights, abolished last in, first out policies that protected veteran (read, more expensive) teachers, and attacked pensions.

We also didn’t sign up for fewer resources. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 31 states provided less per-pupil funding in 2014 than they did before the recession in 2008. In 15 states, those cuts exceeded 10%.

We didn’t sign up for increasing federal intrusion. No Child Left Behind was signed in 2001. Its goal of having all students proficient by the year 2014 was mocked by anyone who knew anything, but that didn’t stop the feds from doubling down with a piss-poor rollout of the Common Core State Standards and a bribery scheme called Race to the Top to get states to adopt those standards.

We didn’t sign up for high-stakes teacher evaluation systems that rely on crummy data and the opinions of administrators whose motives may not always be pure.

We didn’t sign up to give students an ever-increasing number of flawed standardized tests that spit out unreliable data used to determine a meaningless teacher rating.

We didn’t sign up for value-added modeling, a statistical method used to evaluate teachers that the American Statistical Society says, “typically measures correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

We didn’t sign up to be scapegoated by politicians. The staff of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island sure didn’t sign up expecting the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education to endorse their collective firing. While we may have expected to be treated like dirt by Republicans, we didn’t sign up knowing the Democratic party would abandon us in such a publicly humiliating way.

We didn’t sign up for longer school years or balanced calendars.

We didn’t sign up for substitute teacher shortages.

We didn’t sign up for active shooter drills.

We didn’t sign up for higher poverty rates and needier students. In my state, there are 15% more kids in poverty today than there were in 2008.

We didn’t sign up for increased funding for charter and virtual schools. The same politicians who claim they can’t spend more on education manage to find billions of dollars for charter schools every year, in spite of their lackluster performance. Virtual schools are even worse, but legislators seem to love them anyway.

We didn’t sign up for declining autonomy in the classroom. We didn’t sign up to have our hands held — mistrusted, second-guessed, and told to toe the line, to teach this content at this time in this way. We didn’t sign up for pacing guides, scripted lessons, or strict fidelity to unproven programs.

We didn’t sign up for less planning time.

We didn’t sign up to implement policies we know are bad for kids. We didn’t sign up for less recess, less gym class, less art, less music, and less fun.

We sure as hell didn’t sign up to give eight-year-olds reading tests that could result in their retention.

We elementary teachers didn’t sign up to stress out nine-year-olds over their “college and career readiness” or to take the play out of kindergarten.

There’s an awful lot about teaching today we didn’t sign up for.

In spite of this, most teachers will continue to do the job. Most will do their best. I’m not naive enough to expect those who call teachers whiners to join us in fighting for change. I have no illusions about any of the things I didn’t sign up for going away anytime soon. I won’t challenge our critics to get in the ring and become teachers themselves. After all, they now know what they’d be signing up for. But I will ask them to believe teachers when they tell them what needs fixing. And if they won’t do that, then I will kindly ask them to shut up, and quit telling teachers that they knew what they signed up for.

What do you think, teachers? What else didn’t you sign up for? What’s changed since you decided to become a teacher?


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64 Replies to “No, We Didn’t Sign Up For This”

  1. I didn’t sign up to have our local access printers and photocopiers taken away. We we’re told this year that we need to send our print requests to a central copy center off campus. Our two large photo copier in the building were replaced with inferior lower capacity machines and this is also where we are supposed to print. While this saves the district some money, it’s a move that has seriously impacted teacher efficiency and impacted the school climate; teachers do not feel valued or supported.

    1. I lost track of the reams of printer paper paid for out of my meager salary, just to ensure that my students had their work for the day.
      Of course, with ‘one-to-one’ technology, these things were a thing of the past! Except on those days when the wi-fi was iffy, or a student had superglued a Chromebook shut, or fir the inevitably absent students who missed the lesson, or….

    2. We got that too, but even told that our PERSONAL tech equipment would be “confiscated” if we brought our OWN to do our work. Way to respect teachers!!

  2. I didn’t sign up to have an ever-increasing class size (now up to 28 in third grade, with a mix of everything from gifted to severe special ed) and then to have my state – NM- pass a law that effectively says I can’t punish students in any way. No sitting in the hall for 10 minutes, no standing in a corner, no suspension for anyone for more than 10 days in the school year… How am I supposed to teach children life skills when I can’t give them any consequences for their actions?!?

    1. I hear you! So frustrating to not be able to consequences with meaning.. PBIS! We’re raising entitled brats and our hands are tied!

    2. OMG! Melanie you and I lead parallel lives! PBIS but no consequences for disruptive behaviors. It’s insane. Phones prohibited but no consequences if kids break the rules. Sounds like deliberate sabotage to me. The future impact has yet to be seen. Oh yeah, everything in this article and in the comments section rings true in my world. So let’s see, if all teachers experience this how can it not be a concerted effort to destroy our culture? Conspiracy? We are slowly learning who is behind the attacks and why.

      1. A-MEN! I foolishly made the mistake (well, actually Ivdid this every year!) and thought that things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
        They have.

  3. I didn’t sign up to have kindergarteners crying over a test on the computer. I didn’t sign up to have lock down drills every month, & not be sure whether they are drills or for real. I didn’t sign up to have my evaluations based on tests with material we don’t even cover. I didn’t sign up to be making less money than I made 10 years ago, because my district doesn’t know how to handle money, and make teachers feel valued. I didn’t sign up to worry over calling in sick because our district doesn’t have enough subs, and doesn’t treat the ones we do have in a professional manner, not unlike the way teachers are treated.

  4. I didn’t sign up to have parents question why I am out of the class taking extra training classes for ongoing professional development with new curriculum. I didn’t sign up to have parents berate me about what I supposedly don’t know. Finally, I did not sign up to teach a push down curriculum that is so developmentally inappropriate!!

  5. I didn’t sign up to be a glorified babysitter (who doesn’t even get paid what a teenage babysitter gets paid, or even minimum wage).I didn’t sign up to constantly be on the defense against parents who have only excuses, and no consequences, whose children couldn’t possibly be the issue in any given situation, and that must be something I’m doing or not doing that is the problem. I didn’t sign up for a class that comes to me two to three grade levels behind, yet still being expected to produce those years of growth in one year, and send them to third grade with the skills they need to ‘pass the test’. I didn’t sign up to be a mother, father, grandparent, tutor, nurse, doctor, therapist, behavior coach, and/or prison warden to 20 children, and get paid less than a Wal-Mart door greeter. I didn’t sign up to be so undervalued that my state wouldn’t even pass a 1% sales tax increase to give teachers a raise. I didn’t sign up for resources being cut more and more every year, to pay for over half of my students’ supplies out of my pocket, yet be expected to make miracles happen in my classroom. I didn’t sign up to leave work every day completely physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually spent, and secretly wishing I never had to come back, and praying that God would provide me another way to make a living. I didn’t sign up for being under the rule of those who make decisions that severely impact my life in the classroom, but who have never once taught a day, nor stepped one foot into my classroom to see what it is REALLY like out here. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there. I appreciate the article and feel relieved that there are others who truly understand that we are literally on the front lines of education, and it’s dangerous out here.

      1. Agreed, Bill. I’m a teacher and a taxpayer who agrees with you that we are socially promoting students even after teachers protest and say that the student pass. As a teacher and a taxpayer I am livid that I have to give a 50 percent to a student who didn’t do any work at all. As a teacher and a taxpayer, I’m annoyed that I have 10 bosses but nobody considers my professional opinion. As a teacher and a taxpayer, I’m angry that previous learning time is squandered by the misbehaving students who are never removed or punished. These students seek to disrupt any productivity. These kids now have a new definition of “cool” it’s called acting “savage”. Yes, that’s what they call it and it’s considered cool to do it. Bizarre. It’s not cheeky. It’s an aggressive insolence that serves no purpose. I’m not certain what kind of intellectual curiosity is left in the majority of kids. The kids know nothing will happen to them so it just gets worse. As a taxpayer, I’ll know I’ll have to fork out more money to pay more CEOs higher salaries for their charter schools principal salaries in area of $400,000 or more. Criminal.

    1. Preach!! Everything that you have all said. Spending my nights and weekends doing schoolwork. It’s Sunday and I should go to school and get some things ready but I just want to stay home with my family.

  6. Wow. This was like reading my own life in words. Your blog and your books really resonate with me and I’m sharing your stuff everywhere. You have really hit the nail on the head, especially with this one!

  7. I didn’t sign up to try to manipulate parents into taking care of their own children. I didn’t sign up to spend months documenting a child’s failure to succeed in the regular classroom to prove I am actually trying to teach them before they can get the help they need. I didn’t sign up for daily exhaustion.

    1. Oh my goodness, yes to both of those parts…The MONTHS that it takes to document, “intervene”, meet, have your opinion dismissed by school personnel that don’t know that child and then when you are lucky enough to get a referral, that process takes months.

  8. I didn’t sign up to teach classes for which I am not prepared, and to teach students who need a special ed teacher (I am not an interventionist or a special ed teacher). I did not sign up to have my prep time reduced every year and have the number of classes that I teach growing from four to six per day. I did not sign up to bring work home every weekend and during vacations.I did not sign up to be expected to volunteer in school or district events. I did not sign up to be intimidated and fear consequences if a certain percentage of my students do not pass the class. I did not sign up to question my integrity when it comes to passing students who never showed up or completed little or no assignments during the semester but yet the administrators hold me responsible for their failure. I did not sign up to sit in boring and useless staff meetings or professional development sessions held by people who think they know how to fix everything.

  9. I did not sign up to find my own substitutes. I did not sign up for three meetings a week just got the sake of having a meeting. I did not sign up for the communication gaps that exist between admin and classroom teachers. I did not sign up for a six year old trying to shove me out of the way do that I don’t press the call button.

  10. I did not sign up for the narrowly missed threat of armed violence. I did not sign up to be berated by parents and thrown under the bus by administrators. I did not sign up for threats to my personal security with no consequences for violent parents or students. I did not sign up for IEP’s created by parents selecting off a service menu- designed to please parents, not to help kids.

  11. I did not sign up for district imposed redo policies that teach students that nothing has to be done right or on time the first time. I did not sign up to teach students who are more comfortable texting than talking. I did not sign up for students in suburbia not showing up for class one day because they overdosed on opioids, were recruited by a gang, human trafficked, shot, run over by an angry friend after a party or suicidal the night before.

  12. I didn’t sign up to be forced to give students a 50% grade even if they’ve never turned a single assignment. I didn’t sign up to be told two weeks before the quarters over to prepare make-up work for a student who skipped every class or never attends school and then told I must give them full credit. I didn’t sign up to constantly watch violent students fight and have no consequences. I didn’t sign up for a job that is more dangerous than when I was in the military. Six years in, two Masters degrees and looking for a new career path…done.

  13. I didn’t sign up to pull additional support from the higher grade in my school to put it in the earliest grades because prevention is more effective than remediation. Sure additional support is needed earlier. It’s not and never has been and never will be an either/or situation. We will have students who need additional support at all levels to grow as learners.

  14. I didn’t sign up to be in a combat zone where there is no support for teachers from administration, and no consequences for student behaviors. I didn’t sign up to be part of the school to prison pipeline. I didn’t sign up to watch kids have to fail before admin. allows the services necessary to be implemented, and are often too late. I didn’t sign up to follow, or blindly trust administrators who don’t value the educators. I did not sign up to constantly have my union rep hat on to support myself and other teachers whose binding contracts aren’t being followed. I didn’t sign up to be in an environment that is caustic, untrusting, and increasingly becoming closed door due to all of the things we didn’t sign up for.

  15. I didn’t sign up knowing that I would have minimal support with discipline. Nor did I sign up for no real consequences when students don’t come to school. I didn’t sign up for guidance begging me to find a plan for a student who does not work in class and shows up only once in a while to do a stack of papers so I can give him/her a passing grade so they can graduate into world they aren’t even close to being ready to enter.

  16. When I retired in 2016 after 30 years of teaching, I was do relieved I did not have to deal anymore with a school system that is chaotic and cares little about the teachers who are the backbone of the system. There are too many people who have never dealt with the day to day issues of teaching, making decisions about education. I’m grateful to anyone who is willing to support teachers.

  17. As a citizen taxpayer, I did not sign up to pay confiscatory property taxes to support a failing public school district whose administration is unable to teach even half the district’s kids to read at grade level. I did not sign up for most of those poor readers to be promoted to the next grade regardless. I did not sign up to support a school board that tolerates such unacceptable performance. I did not sign up for an education system that is creating a dependent underclass of adults who, because of their inability to read well, will become a financial welfare burden on my children and grandchildren….

    1. Right…you know everything about schools. Yep! When is the last time you were in one? Have you ever, EVER, taught anything? You have all the answers, Bill, but absolutely no experience with what you are speaking about.

    2. Hmm. Check in with an out of control, violent society. Parents who don’t know how to parent, who don’t support the teachers, who would rather pop their kids in front of technology than be with them and teach life lessons or read a book to them. Check in with the current ideology of fewer consequences being allowed and more positives expected for what kids should just be expected to do. Check on the less funding of our public schools by state and federal levels. Check in on the constantly changing curriculums pushed by state and national leaders who have never worked in education.
      Teachers work hard. Most give lots of extra time, lots of money, and would most likely give their lives for their students.
      We know the kids are behind, but curriculum forces us to keep marching on through the skills. The states have set standards that are proven to be developmentally inappropriate for kids. And then the teachers and schools are judged on those inappropriate standards.
      Go try substituting. You’ll get a feel for what we are trying to do and what we are working with.

    3. Bill … you are part of the problem … and you are clueless ! You wouldn’t last a day never mind 20 years I have taught ! Teachers should be respected and supportive ! Parents need to do their part! Teachers are not magicians ! Adios !

    4. When you vote for your local school board – you sign up! When you move to a neighborhood that is against public education – you sign up. When you sit back and watch instead of talking with teachers and volunteering in classrooms (to help children read because there is no funding for reading specialists) – you sign up! When you support the lack of funding, professionalism, and honor of the profession – you sign up!

  18. I did not sign up to lose all of my privacy and be lied about, defamed, harassed, and once even stalked on the internet by students and parents allowed to lie anonymously. I did not sign up to be stalked by a student via mail, the internet and physical visits to my home that the campus police basically did nothing about.

  19. I didnt sign up to be financially penalized to move to a rural district or ANY district for that matter. Teaching is the only profession i know of where you are not creditted for your FULL years of experience to a new district. FOR INSTANCE…. I make about $66k (base salary) in a large STL county school with 20 years experience and a Masters degree with AP Calculus cert. If I move to another school in the county, they typically will credit me with 10 yrs experience and that will lower my salary to $55k or less. If i do the same to a rural school, even with FULL experience credit it lowers to $38k. There are no negotiations in salary as in the business sector….

  20. Your thanks and appreciation can be sent to Gov. Walker and th e GOP legislators of WI that threw you under the bus. Not only did they tie your hands as far as your pay goes they limited your resources to do you job and on top of that they funded your competition in the form of financing and promoting voucher schools.

  21. I didn’t sign up to teach children that no longer have respect for authority, who think they can do whatever they want and their parents will support them when the teacher calls home.

    I didn’t sign up for a pay check that stays the same 4 years in a row only to keep paying more for insurance which decreases my pay every year, and raises are unheard of.

    I didn’t sign up to teach children who are not ready to learn. Who have never held a pencil, crayon, or pair of scissors. Who has no problem solving skills, and expects me to do everything for them.

  22. I didn’t sign up for parental attacks on my instruction because the parents don’t understand the assignments. Nor did I sign up for complete lack of parental support for their child’s behavior.

  23. I knew I would never get rich as a teacher, but my parents are both teachers and I was content living their same middle class lifestyle. Unfortunately, as a teacher in today’s economy, my standard of living is not even close to what theirs was 20 years ago. I did not sign up for driving 10+ year old cars and not being able to pay for my kids to go to college.

  24. I didn’t sign up for 35 years of work that was highly praised by students, families, and administrators, considered an expert in my field by educational professionals, but “approaching average”according to my 2017 state evaluation. I didn’t sign up for having my retirement so reduced due to freezes and give backs that my 2017 newly retired benefit pay is half that of my retired-teacher mother’s (same state, same level of pay scale, 15 years ago).

  25. Comsidering the increasing pressures teachers are under, it’s amazing I survived for as long as I did, 28 years. It’s as bad as described and was often worse. Over the years, administration could be your best friend or an implacable enemy. As teacher autonomy decreased over the length of my career with the advent and curriculum control of standardized testing, my creativity was undermined and increasingly less important to the data driven mentality. Parents were less involved over the years, from full houses on back to school night in my early years to 4 parents in my last. When I expressed astonishment to my principal, she smiled and said, sadly, that was to be expected. I pray enthusiastic prospective teachers will not give up the ship. Hang in there, the kids need you even if society doesn’t care.

  26. I won’t sign up because I am a Republican. The discrimination in this group is palitable as I read the message. Might I remind you that we had a Democratic President for 8 years prior to Trumps 1 year. Why wasn’t anything changed in 8 years. It became a profession that thousands of us exited in the past 9 years. This group should not be pointing fingers at a particular party, but offering solutions and fighting for those solutions. Pointing fingers is unacceptable.

  27. PBIS AND NO CONSEQUENCES. Jumping through many numerous hoops to prove that I am a competent teacher year after year. Bed bugs in my classroom the last 6 years. No support as far as resources or administrative support. Unrealistic expectations put on younger and younger students.

  28. I have been teaching since 1988. I cannot begin to tell you of the changes I have seen over that amount of time. And there are not many that were good changes, a few, but not many.

  29. I did not sign up to be cussed at and called names in other languages. And then have the administration ignore me when I ask to have disruptive students removed. Discipline has become a joke in the past 23 years.

    Parents need to step up and do their part. Then I can teach the “subjects” again and not social skills and respect for others. That’s important, but not what I should be doing all day long.

  30. I signed up when I was 18yrs old and hadn’t a clue about what I really wanted to do. I loved teaching, even with a class of 40 children. Things improved, numbers went down and there was finally space for all of us and the furniture in the room. There was even fun! 44yrs later, I’m retiring. Things have changed so much and not for the better.
    Enough of the “experts” telling us what to do, when to do it and to document and be accountable. Testing, assessing, data, cutbacks, useless Professional Development, boring mind numbing staff meetings, using and analysing data to shape school improvement, teacher observations and assessments, individual learning plans for every student when there isn’t any way to deliver the individual teaching, blah, blah, blah………. Oh! Not forgetting the rundown buildings and facilities we work in.
    Children are precious individuals and need understanding and support to learn, not standardised tests.
    I did not sign up for what I have to put up with now.

  31. I didn’t sign up for endless professional development and coaching that is not differentiated and where we are not given a voice or a choice in what we are doing. If what we were doing before worked for us and our students, too bad, you are now expected (and evaluated on) the district’s wy. I didn’t sign up for curriculum maps and pacing guides telling me what I had to teach, using certain materials and technology being valued to the extreme. I didn’t sign up for constant walk-throughs and administrators deciding to role-play students and further adding to the stress and disruptions. And I didn’t sign up for a Pollyanna administrator who doesn’t see or care the stress and pressure placed on her staff and thinks her school is a “family”. What I did sign up for was retirement, 2 years before I had originally planned, but I was fortunate that I had more than the necessary years in and I qualified for the same health benefits free of charge that I was paying for while I was actively working. Perhaps sadly, I have not missed working one bit.

  32. I agree with everything on your list but one: balanced calendars. I would LOVE to be able to teach in a school with a balanced calendar! I experienced one year on a balanced calendar when my family lived in Nairobi, Kenya for one year in the 1970’s: 3 months on, one month off. It was a great schedule as a 10 year old, and the thought of 3 months on, 3 weeks off still sounds great as a 55 year old. If only our schools had some semblance of air conditioning…

    1. Except with a balanced calendar, all this eteachers working summer positions in order to compensate for their ‘frozen in time’ pay lose that opportunity.

  33. This was amazing… when I started college there was a teacher hire rate From our college of almost 99.7 percent. When I graduated in 2010 it was nearly impossible to find a job. My job was in jeopardy my first 2 years and I couldn’t wait to get to year 3 for tenure… when they took that away. We have no acces to color printing without asking, no access to laminating without someone doing it for us, and i feel like I’m in a good district better than others I observed that had to provide their own paper!
    Parents… no more to say… there’s no trust no respect no thanks…
    I’m thankful to also teach online esl and my parents in china are always so thankful! They just see eduction differently and are so thankful and loving towards teachers… this was a great article I’d share it if I knew I wouldn’t get any negative back lash except teachers aren’t supposed to have lives outside the classroom anymore 🤷🏼‍♀️

  34. I didn’t sign up to have children whose mental health puts my students & I in danger and makes me fear for our safety-only to be told that if I had a relationship with these kids I wouldn’t have problems in the classroom. I can’t touch them, I can’t put them in the hall, I get less support from administration, and no training on how to help these kids while still managing 20 others that are ready to learn. I can’t have a time out chair-only a calming corner. I don’t even have a corner to spare while packing 25 five year olds in a room meant for 16. I didn’t sign up for so many parents addicted to drugs that neglect their children or have grandparents raising them. I didn’t sign up for experiences and play being put aside to cram more minutes of instruction into their tiny brains.

  35. As a teacher who loves teaching, I would strongly encourage you to find a profession that you love – one that you can speak highly of and be proud of. Teaching isnt for everyone, and that is OK, but if you are going to be a teacher, you should focus on why you #LoveTeaching instead of focusing on the things you don’t like about the profession… or find a new profession.

  36. It’s “free.” Public education is “free” to the end user. Something that is free is never going to be appreciated. I gave up having a career, spent thousands of dollars on curricula, and taught my own children at home.

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