The “X”odus Files: The School Climate Hole.


I happens over and over again. Why? Is it an inability to truly dissect and understand this moment? Or, is it a willful need preserve the status quo?

These are the questions I continue to ask after reading some post, blog, or journal article that maintains the “teacher shortage” narrative. But last week NEA Today added a new layer that insists on using teacher shortage language but begins to delve into the possible reasons.

I thought this might be a breakthrough considering that NEA Today also used the Economic Policy Institute’s study that puts forth school climate as an important variable in understanding the teacher “X”odus.

According to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, (EPI) more than half of teachers do not feel supported in their jobs, and 25%  consider leaving the profession as a result. The study is the fourth in EPI’s series looking at the trends – challenging working environment, low pay, lack of professional development opportunities, and the diminished status of the profession – that have undermined the teacher labor market.

Here’s my problem. Continuing to treat this as a teacher labor issue totally misses the point. It’s great to know that school climate issues are cited by teachers as reasons for leaving the profession, but is this really a research finding or just a simple statement about the reality teachers face daily? We have known that the climate in schools and classrooms is driving teachers into states of anxiety, depression, and despondency that quickly turns into an “X”odus. But why?

Teachers in all schools believe they lack any sort of voice in shaping curriculum, setting performance standards for students, devising discipline policies, or evaluating teachers.

And there it is tucked away in the NEA Today post. Although powerful and revealing, the true meaning of the statement above and its direct causal connection to the teacher “X”odus simply fades right back to “school climate.” And the fix?

The focus needs to be on reversing the chronic underfunding of schools and elevating the status of the profession.

I disagree. More money in the current system just means more of the system. Funding is extremely important but only when those funds can actually be used by professional teachers and schools in ways that are liberating. Funding will never give teachers a voice and elevate the profession. Voice and professional status will only come when the entire “accountability system”—that was imposed on the profession by politicians and think tanks—is dismantled.

And if you’re not sure what accountability looks and feels like check out what this 35 year veteran teacher revealed.

Everything revolves around testing. In the 70s, when I went to high school, my teachers were trusted to teach and assess with complete autonomy. They were pros who weren’t monitored or paid by how well their students did on standardized tests.

The other thing that is very demoralizing is the deprofessionalization of teachers and teaching. In Vermont, where I grew up, teachers often went back to teach in their towns—and they taught for 40 years. They were absolutely revered. Programs like TFA, with their two-and-through mentality, show that their ranks don’t think much of teachers or teaching—and anyone can do it. Teaching is one of those little resume padders you do on your way to your real job in a non-profit or policy-making—or law school. Whereas the teachers I so admire taught in the trenches for 40 years, the TFA crew deludes themselves into thinking that they alone solve educational inequities. That self-aggrandizing is so insulting to those of us who have spent decades honing our craft and giving students our all. Unfortunately, the donor class loves to invest in them; they give great photo-op parties, from what I understand.

My face-to-face time w/ my students is short enough…. Standardized testing disrupts that even more. Not only do students miss so many classes to take tests; I will be pulled 4 of the next 10 days to administer tests. (A colleague is being pulled all 10 days). There have been other consequences of testing as well. Because of the emphasis on testing, teachers don’t have time to teach critical areas such as grammar, spelling and sentence structure. Where we used to teach novels and go into depth with analysis has become snippets because preparing for tests trumps all.

This is what accountability looks like! If we want to fix “school climate” we better quickly come to an understanding that the current climate is the result of 35 years of accountability. More funding to the current system just means more system. In other words, You can’t dig yourself out of a hole.