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A former teacher shares what schools need to do to keep teachers happy

  • There is a national teacher shortage in the United States.
  • I had my dream job teaching acting classes for several years.
  • I am one of many teachers who quit their teaching job because it became a nightmare.

This year, the news is flooded with stories about the national teacher shortage, with the Washington Post saying it had “never seen it so badly” at ABC’s “five-alarm crisis” term. Several states have lowered their standards for teachers, desperate to get enough adults in the classroom. And during this crisis, teacher training programs are closing due to a lack of enrollment.

I redid school dreams, fed by the cycle of news.

The opening act of each school year was my favorite – I thrived on nerves. The anticipation of back to school felt a lot like the feeling of waiting behind the curtain, ready to take the stage. I knew my lines and my blockage. I had a plan, but it still couldn’t quell that buzz in my stomach. How would my performances turn out? How would the year unfold?

I gave 6 acting lessons a day

I taught in what can only be described as a dream job. I ran an acting program with six acting classes per day, spread over four levels. We did several shows a year and even had a student-led improv team.

I was able to shape my own programs and eventually built a black box type theater with the help of my student. The program was wonderful, with amazing kids who came through my doors to experience the wonders of the performing arts, develop their creative and artistic abilities, and work as a team, from writing plays to performing them.

It was the program I had hoped to lead one day when I went through teacher training, the kind of teaching job I had dreamed of during those tedious years of substitute teaching and applying.

Teaching has become a nightmare

Yet I would like not flip. Because by the time I left, the dream had become a nightmare.

On a personal level, I suffered from panic attacks about my son’s daycare. Leaving teaching to become a stay-at-home parent was the hardest but best decision I could have made in my life. The work itself was untenable – no respect, no trust, little pay and an increasingly hostile environment. I am far from the only teacher to know these truths.

It was never about money; it was my passion. After all, I was the first to arrive at school and the last to leave for several days, working hours on extracurricular productions. In my third year of teaching drama, the county cut the after-school allowance. This pay cut came with a stern warning that I should not limit my schedule in any way. I was told that if “I cared about the kids” I would have to do even more, without pay.

If teachers are to return, it starts with respect. Pay teachers what they are worth. In some countries, teachers are among the highest paid professionals. We don’t make fun of them, we don’t overwhelm them with politics, then we push them to do more and more for free.

If teachers are to return, they also need security. I will never forget the student who looked at me with tears in her eyes and asked me if we were going to survive. We were crammed into the auditorium while a shooter was outside. America is the only nation where this occurs. It is the only country where every teacher actively maps hiding places and prays never to use them.

I left school before the pandemic. COVID-19 exacerbated the situation, but it did not cause it. America’s teacher crisis isn’t new, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. As teachers remain scapegoats, unrespected and dangerous, it is no wonder the crisis continues. And what a sad situation we leave to our children.

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