Sarah, 12th - Oakland, CA
“I love teaching and I love you, but I just can’t do this anymore” has become the official marker for summer at my California public charter school, Oakland School for the Arts. This is the premise of goodbye notes and speeches from teachers who leave at the end of each school year, or, often in the middle of it. This March, after my new English teacher, Mr. T, announced that he wouldn’t be returning for the rest of the year, I felt sadness, but I felt an even deeper twinge of deja vu. Didn’t he just replace Mr. R, who said something similar? And wasn’t that the case with my last two English teachers, Ms. B and Mr. C? My thoughts quickly went towards how many teachers I’ve lost in high school.
I am a junior and eight out of eleven, or about 66%, of the academic teachers I’ve had in high school have left. To paint a more striking picture, I can count the number of my teachers who have stayed at my school on one hand. To count my teachers of color who have stayed, I don’t even need a hand: just one finger.
My amazing 10th grade English teacher Mr. Chazaro wrote about this dearth, specifically on why men of color are leaving the classroom. He notes how an ABC News report found teaching to be the fourth most stressful job in the U.S, but living and teaching in a city like Oakland means teachers must deal with a contemptuously low salary while dealing with one of the highest costs of living in the nation. As similarly highlighted by the New York Times back in 2001, low wages and poor working conditions are to blame for poor teacher retention. However, looking at the present, it is clear that we have crossed over from retention issues into attrition.
It’s not a mystery to me that teachers keep leaving. What is puzzling to me is why people aren’t more collectively concerned about this. After all, isn’t a student’s loss a society’s loss? As significant reform can be expected to emerge from a national and global crisis, we can expect huge changes coming in the United States. We cannot forget about our education system.
Besides the disruption and sadness of saying goodbye, what is lost feels less tangible: feeling known and secure, continuity in learning, and school culture are all things that disappear along with teachers. School is a place for many students to imagine the world and their place in it. Teachers are our guides in a sense, and I, for one, feel lost without them.
Students 6th-12th Grades