Teacher Burnout

I only taught at the grade-school level for one year — and that was at a private school in New York. It convinced me that I wanted to teach, but it also convinced me that I wanted to teach at a higher level where I could continue to learn and grow. But I knew right away how hard those who teach the very young work and I knew that I loved teaching.

So did a young woman in South Carolina by the name of Sariah McCall who recently left teaching because she “couldn’t set [her]self on fire to keep someone else warm.” That is to say, she burned out. As an article in Yahoo News recently reported:

McCall says she never saw herself leaving teaching until it was happening. However, when she found that her job became “less about teaching the kids than making sure that mandates were fulfilled,” McCall made the decision that her own well-being needed to take precedence. “You can’t keep killing yourself over it because it’s not helping anybody. I had to prioritize that I had to be more important than my career. And it still sounds really selfish and I still feel guilty about it,” McCall explains.

If you wonder why she felt the need to leave teaching, take a quick look at her daily schedule:

Sariah McCall was in her classroom every morning at 6:45 a.m., taught bell-to-bell classes, attended meetings during her planning period and worked assigned lunch and recess duties with little time to eat or go to the restroom. When the bell rang for the 2:15 p.m. student dismissal, she worked an assigned bus or hall duty, followed by lesson and classroom prep. Sometimes, she left school by 5 p.m. At home, McCall would work on more grading and paper work until 11 p.m. or midnight, then finally sleep — and repeat.

In our self-absorbed age, it is rare to find a person like Ms McCall who was dedicated to others and to helping them grow into intelligent and responsible adults. But South Carolina, in this report, is seeing quite a lot of this of late. In fact, the reports tells us that 7300 teachers left teaching  for one reason or another during or at the end of the 2017-2018 school year! This is not only sad. It is borderline tragic (and I refuse to overuse that word!) We all suffer when those who teach must quit or face ill-health or nervous disorders because of the endless trite nonsense they are required to do outside of teaching. Or because they can’t make a living.

The answer to this dilemma is quite simple — and I have mentioned this once or twice before. We need to pay the teachers what they deserve, as they do in tiny Finland. This will attract more and better teachers to begin with and perhaps restore some semblance of respect to a calling that is currently much maligned. After all, we measure success in dollars in this country and underpaid teachers are not regarded as successful people by and large.

But we also need to cut out all the bullshit that goes along with teaching generated by an overabundance of administrating types who have little to do themselves aside from determining what others should do. We have far too many administrators in the education establishment at all levels. These are people who are paid well and who go to meetings (after meetings, after meetings) and try to reinvent the wheel. If they were once in the classroom they are no longer and because of the distance now between themselves and the teachers they forget the demands that are placed on the teachers who are simply exhausted filling out forms and checking boxes — making sure they are in “compliance.”

And, of course, the parents at home are too busy to raise their children properly so they are sent off to school, spoiled, undisciplined, and unruly where the teachers are supposed to build the character that has been ignored for six years at home while the parents were earning enough money to maintain their “lifestyle.”

Parents and administrators simply demand far too much of the teachers and fail to reward them adequately. It’s that simple. So stories like that of Sariah McCall will become more and more commonplace as our education system continues to slip into the abyss and small countries like Finland show us how it is done while we turn our faces away — not in shame, as we ought, but out of indifference to a serious problem that undermines the basic premiss of a free society.

A democracy simply cannot survive, if survival is still a possibility, without an educated citizenry. And that requires a bureaucracy pared to the bone coupled with good teachers paid a fair wage and supported, not attacked, by the populace at large that currently wants only to save tax dollars and make sure their children are not taught about evolution.

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Obstructionist Tactics

A somewhat bizarre series of comments surfaced on Sunday during an appearance by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Graham is determined to hold up confirmation of two of the President’s national security advisors until he “gets to the bottom” of the Benghazi debacle. As Graham said on that program:

“In a constitutional democracy, we need to know what our commander-in-chief was doing at a time of great crisis, and this White House has been stonewalling the Congress, and I’m going to do everything I can to get to the bottom of this so we’ll learn from our mistakes and hold this president accountable for what I think is tremendous disengagement at a time of national security crisis,” he said.

At the Senate hearing, Panetta testified that he and Dempsey were meeting with Obama when they first learned of the Libya assault. He said the president told them to deploy forces as quickly as possible.

Graham asked whether Panetta spoke again to Obama after that first meeting. Panetta said no, but that the White House was in touch with military officials and aware of what was happening. At one point, Graham asked Panetta if he knew what time Obama went to sleep that night. The Pentagon chief said he did not.

While this assuredly smacks of extortion, it would seem that even though Panetta and Dempsey have already answered Graham’s questions the man is determined to grandstand and draw attention to himself while he tries to make political hay. (He wants to know what time the President went to bed, for Pete’s sake!) It’s hard to know what is on this man’s tiny mind, except to try to continue to embarrass the Administration in the name of the “families” of those who were killed on that dreadful day. It certainly is not designed to help the government to do its job by moving on to the serious problems facing the nation. It would seem that the questions have been answered, in so far as they can be answered, and that nothing except Graham’s ego and his political future are served by continuing to twist a knife in painful wounds.

I am reminded of Henry Adams’ hatred of the Senate after the experience his grandfather and great-grandfather had trying to serve the nation as President only to have the Senate repeatedly exercise its power in opposition to the will of the President of the United States. I wrote about this some time ago. Granted, Adams had a bias, but he is certainly correct in pointing out that the Senate, under our Constitution, has tremendous power if they choose to exercise it. And with no term limits that power simply increases.

The founders were so worried that the executive would have too much power that they effectively handcuffed anyone in that office by giving the oversight powers to the Senate to check the President’s every move. One look at the Constitution convinces us that the writers gave considerably more attention to the role of the Senate than they did the President or the House of Representatives. This is almost certainly because they saw the Senate as America’s version of the House of Lords, an elite group of landed (wealthy) men who would have the best interest of the country at heart and could not be easily swayed by personal motives. We have seen how that turned out.

In any event, Graham’s histrionics are misplaced and entirely self-serving. He should get back to work and see what he can do to contribute to the pressing problems that face a nation during difficult  economic times with a globe that continues to warm as he vents his spleen and draws attention to himself.