Primary school teaching is too hard to be a long-term job

Primary and secondary school teaching was never meant to be a real profession. Women used to take these jobs until they got married.

You can see this during Children’s Blizzard, which happened in the midwest during the 1800s. The Blizzard occurred unexpectedly during the school day. And hundreds of teachers had the nearly impossible job of saving school children from frostbite. One of the most remarkable aspects of the stories about this day is that teenaged girls were left alone, in charge of 20 kids, with very little training.

Once school started functioning like a factory and teachers formed unions, teaching children started to look like a long-term profession: a marathon to get to those juicy retirement benefits. Now we know those benefits are not sustainable, and there’s little else that is attractive about this profession:

The high demand is in the low reward jobs. 
The six-figure jobs with engaged and well-fed children are all filled. There is high demand for special ed teachers who will participate in a corrupt system. And there is high demand for teachers in low-performing schools where the turnover rate is 50%.

You cannot influence the lives of children. 
Robert Ingersoll is a former teacher turned sociologist. He explains that “Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work.” So the more you are hoping to change the lives of children the more frustrated you’ll be with the constraints from higher up.

Teachers isolate themselves from the community.
If you teach in a community where you would actually want to live, then you will feel poor. That’s because even though teachers have high salaries in well-funded schools, those schools are well funded because the parents in that community have even higher salaries. Also, in order to get pay hikes, teachers strike. The strike is essentially pitting teachers against taxpayers — which is teachers against everyone.

Teachers become isolated from their own community. 
Teaching has a lower learning curve than most professions. Carol Dwerk codified this conclusion with her research, (which I hate, because I think Dwerk is misogynist, but I have to reference her research just this once before I take her down in another post.)

Anyway, teachers must figure out stuff like how to calm down disrespectful parents and kids who can’t sit still. After about five years, they know how to manage the kids and the parents. And there is nothing else to learn. They get the same type of kids coming through every year. And they are teaching the same subject, and they are told how to teach by the government.

Compare the learning curve to any other industry and you’ll see why teaching was initially intended to be a sort of temporary job. This is why people who are in their mid-40s in teaching are seen as very knowledgable  and employees in their mid-40s are seen as full of outdated information.

Teachers should go home. 
A whopping 85% of teachers say they entered the profession because they love working with young people. Of course whatever their idea of working with young people is, it’s probably not a teacher student ration of 1:30. That’s more working at young people.

The difference between working with and working at probably explains why every reason teachers cite for wanting to leave teaching is that they get no respect. How can someone respect a person who spends 40 hours a week corralling such a large group of kids? It’s a terrible, impossible job that is never going to be meaningful.

Any why would you want to use up all your energy taking care of other peoples’ kids instead of saving your energy for the kids who need it most: your own.

One more thing about the Children’s Blizzard
Shortly after the big snow newspapers in Boston — reporting as if no days had passed — were already pointing fingers: “Unthinking teachers to-day dismissed young school children, some of whom have to go four or five blocks across the open land.” Yet non-teachers who made the same dangerous decisions were  “overcome by a wonderful display of nerve and good judgement.” So it seems that it’s been maybe forever that the newspaper industry lacked reliability because there were no links. And it’s also been maybe forever that teachers have been singled out for disrespect.

5 replies
  1. ru
    ru says:

    when i was in ESL, i had really great teachers. I felt like they helped my family integrate to the community. my parents were so thankful that they bought gifts for the teachers. And then the teachers bought gifts for me to encourage me to keep going to school. Then when I mainstreamed, the classroom become more chaotic. It makes sense that if the teachers aren’t part of the community, they are robots to the curriculum.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      That’s such a nice memory of the exchange between your parents and the teachers. I’ve been doing research bout supporting kids in school; this is a really meaningful relationship because your parents are supporting your integration into the community.

      Tonight I’m listening to Christmas Carols. My parents used to fight about if it’s okay for Jewish people to listen to Christmas Carols. (I am listening but I’m doing it after the kids are in bed.) Anyway, it’s reminding me of how my Girl Scout troop went carrolling every year and my dad would give me rules like, “Don’t sing Silent night” and I would be simultaneously trying to fit into my extremely Roman Catholic community while accommodating my dad’s insistence that I remain outside the community.

      As an autistic parent I never imagined how important it was for me to be part of the community as a bridge for my kids.



    I disagree with the statement that teachers cannot influence the lives of children. Several former students have told me how I changed their lives, helped them believe in their abilities, look at their possibilities differently, etc. One student said I was the only teacher he ever had who refused to accept less than his best effort, and he said that made all the difference in how he saw himself. Another said, “Your impact on my life is undeniable. You poured so much into me just by giving me space to explore and flourish.” These comments—and many others—were unsolicited. They came from young people who realize that influence comes from many directions and that teachers play a role in their development.

  3. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    In BC, a few years back, we had a massive teacher strike (the union here is called the BCTF) and the gvt. basically robbed Peter to pay Paul.

    Some context: We have a different set up for homeschooling up here. You have two options – register or enroll. Register is where you’re completely off the gvt. grid (aside from paperwork each year), and you do whatever you want. Enrolment is what most kids do, as you have to do a bit of work like report every other week to a ‘teacher’ and you’re under the umbrella of a school that gives your kid grades but also a decent amount of funding to spend on things like books, lessons, etc. For all intents and purposes, it looks just like regular homeschooling but you can also have a hybrid option where the kid ‘goes to school’ 1-2 days/week, as well, for those who want it. Once your kid is in high school, enrolment also assures you (assuming they pass 12th grade), a diploma.

    Anyway, a few years ago the BCTF (which has been lobbying for YEARS to undermined homeschoolers + independent schools) got what they wanted – sort of. The gvt. gave them a huge raise and allocated millions for a ‘continuing education’ program for teachers (who already get funding, per teacher, for this and can spend it on whatever type of continuing education they want…). This undercut the staff + homeschooler funding by over 20%…RIGHT in Spring of 2020 when all the teachers went home because of covid. Some weren’t even showing up online because “privacy”. So, they continually got paid, didn’t do their job, and got a bonus mentorship program! Meanwhile homeschooling families (often just on one income) and their schools lost staff, funding, and support.

    More than thirty percent of homeschooled kids are in the homeschooling world not because their parents are philosophical homeschoolers, but because they have extreme anxiety, other medical conditions, were bullied relentlessly and didn’t want to continue school, or (and this is most) – have some sort of neurodivergence that makes a brick and mortar option challenging.

    The teachers celebrated a victory with the millions taken away from homeschoolers and for what? Homeschooling SAVES money for taxpayers (less kids in school districts, parents still pay district taxes), and now some of these kids who were struggling in brick and mortar schools…(and who regular schools don’t have enough EAs for)…are going to go back to the brick and mortars because of lack of funding (which also dug into neurodivergent diagnosis support funding)…and the teachers are going to have MORE kids back in their classroom with challenges? It was such a bad decision for everyone, except the teachers, and the politicians who would have lost the vote that year if they didn’t hop into bed with the BCTF (10K+ members!!).

    I have many friends who are teachers and who are people of integrity, are extremely kind and fair to their students, and who try to do their best by them – with their limited classroom funds and energy, but sometimes the teacher unions are *out of control* and it ends up hurting the kids in the long run.

    I love stories like the one shared above, I know those are the ‘hidden’ stories that we don’t hear enough about, but then there are mass-corruption issues where the economics and the outcomes don’t make sense, but the unions pockets are very fat at the end of the day….


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