The Fears Teachers Have: Part 3) What Is Making Professional Educators Flee At Such High Rates? Tales From the Inside of My Chosen Field

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

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This is the final installment of a three-part series on Teacher Fears, and in it we will explore what's really ruminating in the hearts and minds of the people in this profession. This exploration will consider the things that teachers are often hesitant to discuss or write about for fear of rocking the boat. I guess I should be concerned, too. Instead, I find myself more concerned for my peers and colleagues. I posted a simple question on social media to get some responses about the things that weigh most heavily on the minds of teachers. What I got in return was a much more complicated answer than I'd ever imagined I'd receive….

Like many of my peers and age-mates, I have suddenly found myself becoming a LOT more vocal as I age.

Initially, I started out feeling as though my social circle had granted me permission to "Speak My Truth."

You see, as a member of the Generation X age group, no one really cared what our opinions were so we, quite simply, kept them to ourselves. We were used to it. Our Builder and Boomer generation parents required it of us and while we, as a group, silently roll our eyes at authority, we know better than to make any kind of kerfuffle.

So, the very idea of starting to speak my truth-AND BE HEARD-was quite a new idea for me.

The rush of my emotions being drained from my very brain every time I spoke my peace made me feel, over time, so much…healthier.

It became an art form for me to say what I needed to say while keeping my emotions at bay. My goal wasn't to take down others. My goal was to exonerate my heart and soul of unnecessary and unneeded emotional clutter. My need to relinquish my internal, emotional froth-so to speak-was satiated. Conversations were generated, dialogs opened, honest relationships were developed.

I felt like I was beginning to understand the concept of self-actualization and how it applied to me.

I liked it.

But then I decided to move away from my hometown, a place where I had lived, gone to university, married, raised children, and built a career-all of my life.

Moving to a new state, finding a new job, attempting to make new friends, finding a new faith community and learning where to grocery shop was all done with the sense a toddler must feel as they learn to pull away their hand from the steadying security of the couch and start walking on their own.

It was scary.

It was hard.

It was, a lot of the time, unforgiving.

Suddenly I found my self-actualized self feeling lonely and homesick in a place which was culturally known for being a friendly and welcoming place.

I tell this story to not generate envy or pity from one single person. I tell this story because, after reading the 100-plus responses to a question posed on social media asking Teachers to share their fears, I realized that so many people feel this way not only at home BUT ALSO AT WORK.

Even the people who grew up here.

Even the people with roots there.

Even the people who work with family members in their hometown school districts.

Even those who drive for an hour to get to their schools. Even those who have a 20-person building.

Even those who worked tirelessly for four or more years in college to hold the career for which they've longed.

Suddenly and sadly, I realized this wasn't just my own issue. It has become a career norm.

It has become a reality to which, quite simply, stinks and while I'd love to say that a certain generation is accustomed to the ridiculousness life has thrown our way-and we're good at rolling with it quietly-those who are behind us are not…and no one SHOULD have to deal with it.

So What Are Our Peers Saying?

Every time I read through this list, my heart just hurts. Yes, that's a really sappy thing to say, but when the respondents share things which are human-driven, all I have to say is people CAN make a change in how they behave.

The bigger question is, will they?

In my first post in this series, I shared that the respondents to my query of "Teachers, what fears do you have about your career?" provided the following responses:

  • Fear of job loss.
  • Abuse/harassment from staff/bullying/lying.
  • Abuse/harassment by administration.
  • Fear of peers harming students.
  • Abuse from kids.
  • Verbal abuse/physical abuse from parents.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of personal life attack/being outed for sexuality.
  • Fear of not being able to recover from illness/surgery appropriately.
  • Fear of a medical episode.
  • Fear of a school attack/assault.
  • Fear of not being to pay off student loans.
  • Fear of parents/society losing respect for the field.
  • Fear of no contract renewal.
  • Fear of administration taking parents' side to avoid legal ramifications.
  • Fear of low assessment scores.
  • Fear of physical implications of the job stress.
  • Fear of not doing paperwork correctly and losing job.
  • Fear of not meeting IEP goals/objectives because of lack of resources/time.
  • Fear of screwing up record keeping.
  • Fear of missing something relevant and required.
  • Fear of missing out on my own child's events and activities because of my work's expectations.
  • Fear of quality of life in retirement years due to cuts in pay/retirement benefits.
  • Fear of kidney/bladder disease because of limited/no breaks.
  • Fear of not being able to meet the financial needs of their own family.
  • Fear of theft of classroom supplies purchased from their own money.
  • Fear of no support from administration.
  • Fear of sharing relevant information with administration then being treated like a trouble-maker.
  • Fear of not having friends at work.
  • Fear of the fact I shut my door and do my job to avoid the drama and then paying the price for that decision in my evaluation.

Initially, I thought about addressing each and every concern and fear and then I realized that the readers of this blog are typically intelligent, well-read, aware individuals who either share these concerns AND/OR are intelligent enough people who can research the "whys" to these issues independently.

There is nothing I'm going to say, write, infer, or share that will change what is on the hearts and minds of our peers.

What CAN change is how we act within the construct of our profession's so-called new normal.

Defining the New Normal and Figuring Out How To Behave Within It To Benefit Not Only Ourselves But To Support Those Around Us-Especially the Students

What we should be doing, as professionals, is adopting a mindset of supportiveness and helpfulness, but that appears to be a pipe dream.

Instead, we find our hallways full of fake.

Fake smiles, fake offers, fake support.

What administrations around our country have allowed to take root is a shameful mix of Mean Girl mixed with a bit of mean-spiritedness, sprinkled with a dose of isolationism, salted with back-stabbing shananigans and everyone is afraid to hold each other accountable for their actions. No one wants to befall the wrath of Crabby Teacher.

If I tell administration about the actions, the other party will make my day even longer with some new passive aggressive-or just plain old AGGRESSIVE-action.

If I do muster the courage to deal with it head-on, I know I will be ostracized, condemned, have the last pickings of everything, experience division of what limited "team" mindset may be in place, and I know my students may even pay the price.

My students may begin to be excluded from playground games by kids in the other Teacher's class. They may not be invited to participate in outings or events. They may be excluded from in-class or intra-school activities.

How do I know?

Uh, for real?


Same stuff. Different year.

It's getting worse.

Some years ago, we entered an era in which our society became quite litigious. People were sued for things that seemed incomprehensible even five years earlier.

People lost their livelihoods over issues which, 30 years prior, would have been resolved by conversation between the two parties.

Suing over too much ice in a coffee cup: ridiculous.

Suing administrators for bullying Teachers: it's about time.

Now, what are we going to do about the harassment toward each other?

What would happen if we worked in an environment which was fully supportive? What if we were able to be collegial, knowing that when we turned our backs to each other at the end of a conversation, there would be no "two-faced" behavior within minutes of parting ways?

Is There A Teacher Utopia?

Do those places exist?

What are they like if they do exist?

Are they REAL? Or are they like some theme park community which wants onlookers to believe they live in the happiest place ever in a sort of Stepford Wives situation?

A few strikes of the keypad reveal numerous lists of Best Places For Teachers To Work but it's not based on Teacher input. It's based on salary, benefits, cost of living, and parental input. In reviewing a few of the lists, I noted a common comment: "Teachers are willing to stay late so my child can get the support they need."

Okay, I'm not opposed to the idea of a child getting the support they need. What I would ask others to consider is, what about my own child or grandchildren?

I have a home. A family. I want to be with them. Support them. Ensure they get their needs met, too. I'm not alone in my desire. I know I'm not.

Do we, as Teachers and administrators, have to sacrifice the well-being and welfare of our own family to serve the needs of other families before our own?

Do we, as Teachers, have the right to judge our peers and administrators if they choose to leave as soon as their contract day ends?

No, we don't.

There are plenty of times when we each stay late or take a bag home to accomplish a few things to help us get ahead or help us stay ahead.

If my grocery store closes at 10 but I need milk at 11, the grocer doesn't leave his home to be sure I have my needs met. It is up to me to wait or find another store which CAN meet my needs.

I have worked where it is expected that we stay until 5. I have worked where it's a ghost town by 3:45. Where do you think the Teachers are happiest? Doesn't take a genius to figure out that one.

I have worked where the expectation is we work Saturdays. I have worked where it is not.

Where do you think the Teachers are happiest?

Guess what the data showed? The Saturday programming didn't yield the academic results some may think it would.

Parents were glad for the extra day to have their kids in school.

Me, the Teacher? I had to find child care and be away from my family on a weekend day.

I'm really sorry to shock the systems of some but I am a professional Educator. I am not a babysitter.

Yeah. I'll say it out loud.

I'll Speak To That

I may or may not be about to have a mic drop moment. They scare me. Every time I've had one, I've ended up regretting it.

This time, though, I'm going to be a voice for those among us who are truly too afraid to publicly speak their truth: they love what they do. They've worked hard to attain the profession of Teacher.

But the other stuff that goes with it quite simply STINKS.

It is crushing the hearts and souls of people who want to serve the young ones in our society.

WE are crushing each other's souls.

WE do not have the right to do that to one another.

What gives people the right to be hateful to others especially where a collegial relationship is supposed to exist?

What has made people so hostile that they seek out ways to defame, deflate, and discourage their team members?


Let me tell my precious, hard-working, worn out, sullied, demoralized peers this:

you matter. Your work matters.

Your daily efforts to brighten the lives of children whose homes are awful matter.

Your enthusiastic support of children who have great home support matters.

Your desire to lift up those around you even when they aren't receptive matters.

Your daily sunshine-filled personality matters.

Your leadership skills matter.

Your prayers matter.

Your family at home matters.

Your hard work matters.

Your passion matters.

Your curiosity and insatiable need to learn more matters.

Your kind response to cranky colleagues matters.

Your extra effort for the greater good matters.

You seeking out answers to solve a child's learning problem matters.

The paperwork you complete matters.

Your small token gift to a person who needs a bit of uplifting matters.

Rising above the pettiness and back-biting matters.

Don't quit. Don't leave the profession because some unhappy person can't see their way to know how awesome you are.

If you're in need of legal counsel, find it. Don't let hostility in the workplace chase YOU away from YOUR career dreams.

Be strong. Be tenacious. Be courageous.

…because you matter.

Do not let fear steal your joy. Do not let fear create havoc. Do not let fear win.

I get it. I'm right in there with you.

I celebrate you. You've got this.

Mary McLaughlin

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.
Mary McLaughlin