Recently, three educators from different parts of the country gathered to reflect on the end of the school year and share their feelings about the teaching profession.
From the start of their conversation, it became clear that this has been a unique and challenging time to be a teacher.
“I’ve always worn so many different hats in the classroom, but this year has been overwhelming,” said a middle school teacher from Colorado. “It was emotionally draining. I go home exhausted every day.”
Gradient Learning hosted an anonymous roundtable discussion to allow teachers to speak openly and honestly about some of the factors that are leading many to consider whether they will remain in the profession long-term. In the latest Gradient Learning Poll about “The Great Teacher Resignation,” only 27% of teachers said it is “very likely” that they will be teaching five years from now.
For a high school teacher from Idaho with decades of experience, that is a disheartening reality for a profession she loves deeply.
“That drain is going to hurt our country so much,” she said. “Who’s going to take their place?”
Of the 639 educators that took part in the nationwide poll this spring, 95% said that a “lack of public respect” is a highly or moderately important aspect of a teacher’s decision to leave the profession.
“I’ve always worn so many different hats in the classroom, but this year has been overwhelming…I go home exhausted every day.”
As difficult as that was to hear for the educators in the roundtable, it didn’t come as a surprise to a middle school teacher from Kentucky. The passionate educator said he’s noticed a drastic shift in public sentiment toward teachers from the time he entered the profession a decade ago.
“There have been a lot of things that have changed from year one to now,” he said. “A big part of that is the lack of respect for teachers that is coming from the media, or politicians, and sometimes it’s trickling down to families and the actual interactions that we’re having with parents.”
The teacher quickly rattled off a few recent examples he’s heard of family members speaking rudely to teachers, for reasons that he knows probably have to do with a variety of factors. The recent school years since the pandemic began in spring 2020 have had a lot of ripple effects and increased responsibilities for all.
“If you’re a more experienced teacher, you might look at that tough phone call with a family member and see it as an exception to the rule,” he said. “But I worry for these new teachers who entered the profession in the last couple of years. They might be seeing it as the rule and they might be seeing the nice interactions as the exception.”
All three educators said that developing a strong rapport with their students’ families and caregivers will go a long way toward making the job more enjoyable and fulfilling.
“I think negative interactions make it hard to retain teachers because they’re not able to get the joy that comes from really building that partnership and relationship with the families,” the Kentucky teacher said. “Where, if we’re both on the same team, that’s part of what makes teaching great. A big part of teaching is being able to build those relationships with families and students.”
The three teachers in the roundtable agreed that bringing back the “joy of teaching” should be a top priority for educators when they begin their preparation for the 2023-24 school year. That sentiment was backed up by data from the Gradient Learning Poll, where the majority of teachers (73%) and school leaders (80%) believe that fostering a school culture of positivity and collaboration is a “very valuable” potential solution to keeping teachers committed to staying in the profession.
“I still look at teaching as being the best job ever and I can’t even imagine not having done this,” said the veteran teacher from Idaho. “It’s just sad to think of the people who don’t feel that way anymore.”
In the Gradient Learning Poll, the surveyed teachers said the top three reasons they wanted to be a teacher were to make a difference in the world (49%), to work with children (48%), and because they were inspired by a teacher in their own life (46%).
Also, 80% of teachers said they are more satisfied in their career when they can make a positive difference on a student that goes beyond academic development.
“I still look at teaching as being the best job ever and I can’t even imagine not having done this.”
“We become teachers because we want to impact students’ lives,” the Colorado teacher said in the roundtable discussion. “And we all remember that favorite teacher who impacted us and guided us to be where we are today.”
Each of the three educators strive to be that type of impactful teacher, and are continually inspired by their students’ resilience and desire to learn.
“Our kids can be challenged, and they want to be challenged,” the Idaho teacher said.
“Students will rise to the occasion if they’re given that opportunity,” the Colorado teacher said.
“Our students are more than their test scores,” the Kentucky teacher said, “and they deserve to get everything they need to be the best they can be.”
Click here to learn more about the Gradient Learning Poll on “The Great Teacher Resignation.”