#340: Why Teachers Walk Out (A Short List)


Here’s a short list of reasons
why teachers in Oregon
are walking out on Wednesday:

First, some math:
40 kids in a class room–
times six. A student load
anywhere between 160 and 240.
6 sections of up to 3 distinct
courses to teach, 87 minute periods.
An 87 minute preparation
period to plan a meaningful
261 minutes of instruction.
Another 87 minute prep
period to grade 240 papers.
If a teacher is smart and doesn’t
ask all 6 of her classes to turn
in papers at the same time, best-case
worst-case scenario is that she
will have from her three 9th grade
classes only 270 pages to read, on
which she should provide timely
and meaningful feedback.
When she puts response journals
into the mix (an English teacher
staple), she’s looking at closer to
thousands of pages of reading
for only 3 of her 6 total classes.

Enough math. Let’s talk about
some conditions: Let’s say, that
in each class of 30 to 40, a number of her
kids, maybe a full third of them,
are impaired somehow: resistant,
recalcitrant, angry, depressed,
hungry, homeless, violent, distrustful,
absent, disengaged, disinterested,
high, attempting to vape inside their sweatshirts,
attached to their stupid smart phones
as if these devices were evolutionary
appendages, functionally illiterate,
and finally, learning-disabled in a myriad
of ways, towards all of which, as their teacher,
she is legally bound to be aware
and accommodating.
She is not afraid of her students,
but she knows that some of them
may be dangerous, and she’s
crossing her fingers.
She cannot take comfort
in the fact that there
are only three full time
counselors in a building of
approximately 1300 students.

Step outside the classroom.
There are two staff bathrooms
in the entire building and they
are about a football field
or two apart from each other.
She’s got seven minutes in
between classes to go to the
bathroom, but that’s only
if she talks to zero kids after
class is over, and spends zero
time greeting kids from the
next period as they come in
her room.

Generally speaking, her work
life is frantic and frenetic, and
while she is a deeply reflective
person, there is no time to be
reflective long enough to result
in significant advances in
her never-ending desire to be
more effective at her craft.
She sincerely wants this for
herself and her students, but
the reality is that her job does
not afford her the opportunity
in time to do her job, at least not
in the way she would hope to do it,
not within a 40 hour work week.

For this teacher, simply because
she is who she is, money is not
the issue–but she knows fully
well, that compared to other professions
requiring similar schooling and
accreditation, pay for teachers
is low and has fallen precipitously
over the last decade or so.
She cannot live her
modest middle-class lifestyle
unless she has a partner
who also works full time,
or by living with a room mate
or extended family members.
It is, at the end of the day,
perhaps, a living wage.
But she has not had a pay raise
in a long time; when she reached
the top of the pay scale 15 years
into her career, having tapped out
years of experience and having
finished that other 3rd degree,
she understands that
cost of living is the only adjustment
she will see for the rest of her
teaching life. While there are lots of
opportunities to do more work
for free (serve on committees, mentor
other teachers, lead workshops
in her school, attend after school
study sessions), there are no extrinsic
or monetary incentives to do more or to be better.
In actual fact, when she thinks further
about it, money is the issue. Schools
in her state are poorly funded,
perpetually operating in a shortfall
and this results in the large classes
and the mediocre pay and the lack
of supplies or new materials and
the dearth of support for kids
who need what their teachers
are not prepared to give them.
Sometimes she despairs.
She may as well phone it in, she thinks.
But she doesn’t. She doesn’t phone it in.
That is not the way she rolls.
Because she cares so much,
she is used to doing everything
she can do to make the very
best of a bad situation, even while
she understands her middle school
and grade school counterparts have
it much worse than she does.
She’s done this for a very long time
and she’s tired of it, frankly, so on
Wednesday, she’s walking out.
She’ll leave that stack of papers that
need grading behind in the classroom
and she’ll walk out. She’ll walk out
so that people will ask, listen, and learn.

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

2 thoughts on “#340: Why Teachers Walk Out (A Short List)

  1. Hi friend, I want you to know that I felt this one deep in my bones as I read it, and continue to feel it days later. Did I share with you that I taught 4th and 5th graders in a French immersion program for five years Baltimore County (one of the biggest public school systems in the nation)? So although I haven’t had to deal with the rigors of teaching high school English, and my largest class was 18 students (and no one was vaping in their sweatshirts or spacing out with their phones) I have an idea, perhaps better than most, of which you speak here. One of the reasons I didn’t push through the final hurdles (take the last class, pass the last exam) to obtain my school teaching certification was that I could feel I wasn’t meant to continue giving so much of my Self (my time, my soul, my life energy, my heart) for so little return. I have a deep and abiding respect for those teachers, like yourself, who have managed to maintain the drive and the passion to keep returning year after year. I believe that education is the key to human evolution, for without an awareness of who were are, who we could be, where we need to be, and where we are headed, how can we possibly make the changes necessary to sustain the life support system that makes our very existence possible? You and all teachers like yourself deserve to be paid AT LEAST as much as the highest paid public officials. The injustice of the workload to salary ratio sickens me and feels like too much to bear, so again, I have deep respect for you and anyone who can continue showing up day after day and give of your precious life energy to shape the minds of our future leaders and policy makers. I wish I had answers. I wish it were in my hands to divert some of the funds devoted to senseless killing and arbitrary incarceration to enriching the lives of those who do such crucial work, by paying them at a rate that is commensurate with the service rendered. Presently, all I can do is take deep breaths and hope for change. If you have any ideas about how I can support you and your colleagues, let me know…Until then, courage friend, you are in your penultimate year, after all…🙏🏻🌈❤️✨

  2. Well, Lorien, these words of support and encouragement go a long way toward supporting me and my colleagues. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and to express your respect and gratitude. I’m sure you’re doing great good for people as a yoga instructor. We do our work in the world in the way that most resonates with our being–if we are lucky, and if we are listening. You heard your soul’s calling and you followed. Much gratitude to you.

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