A new study shows that 17% of teachers leave after 5 years in the profession. That number might be a little low due to the recent recession too. A previous study had shown that up to 50% of teachers left the field after just 5 years.
I completely understand why. I’ve been a teacher for 5 years now and I get it. I know there are a lot of people out there who understand that teaching is difficult. There are a lot of people who really appreciate teachers for what they are doing and how hard they work. I know that there are a lot of other professionals who work just as hard as teachers do. But unless you are there, in the classroom, you really can’t understand what I do on a daily basis. I don’t want to complain about it, because I do enjoy my work, but I just want to say that I understand why people choose to leave after 5 years.
I teach HS chemistry. It wasn’t the subject I thought I would be teaching (I have a degree in zoology for crying out loud) but I’ve come to absolutely love it. I’m even in the process of completing a MS in chemistry education to both further my education and to help my students earn college credits for taking my class. I want my students to get everything they can out of my class.
But sometimes I really wonder what the heck I’m doing and if it means anything at all. I was doing a lab on intermolecular forces and polarity the other day and my students where… just not getting it. This is after we’ve gone over polar bonds, polar molecules, intermolecular forces. They’ve had demos and reading and group work and computer simulations. We’v had class discussion and they’ve written about it and answered bell work about it. We’ve been doing this for a week and still… they are not making the connections that I want them to make. I get that it’s only been a week and I know that it is difficult stuff. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating to me. Because it is frustrating when you pour your heart into making these lessons and making sure that it is fun and engaging and hits all the DOK levels and all the learning styles and all the Blooms levels and all the other stuff that your principal and mentor and college degree says should be in a lesson to make it a good lesson.
Your students are frustrated too. Because they can see that you want them to understand and expect them to understand and they still don’t. So they blame you. You didn’t teach it. You went too fast. You didn’t help them. Or maybe they blame themselves. They are too stupid or just “not good at science (or whatever subject)”. They give up because they think it doesn’t matter and no one cares.
Except I do care. I care a lot.
So I understand why teachers leave after 5 years. I want to remind those teachers of all the good times.
I have a wall in my classroom of all the notes that students have left me. I read through those every time I’m having one of those “nothing I do matters” days. They are notes saying that I’m a good teacher, that I made a difference in one student’s life. They are notes saying I was fun and the student enjoyed my class (even though it was hard). They are notes telling me that the student didn’t like science before my class but now they do. They are notes reminding me that what I do does matter, even if a student still doesn’t understand polarity at the end of the day.
I met up with some former students at ASU the other day. They were all taking chemistry at college and they said something about how their college class is basically my class, just a little deeper level. But they get it this year and were really glad that they took my class their senior year. Oh, and they still have all of my notes and they’ve been really helpful. They are also dying inside and haven’t slept in a few days, but chemistry is easy this year.
Maybe I don’t connect with every student. Maybe there are some students who don’t like me or hated my class. But there are more students who liked my class, who enjoy me as a teacher, and who think that what I’m doing matters. These are the students I want to stay for.
In January, 2017, I will officially have been a teacher for 5 years. But I won’t be leaving this profession. Even if it is only for those few students, I matter.