Bad Educational Policies Are Destroying Passionate Teachers, Contributing To The Teacher Shortage

Many of us dreamed of being teachers when we grew up – and now, those who have fulfilled that dream are finding out it’s not at all what they expected.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
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Shutterstock/iona didishvili

Instead of instilling a love of learning in children, they’re disrespected by both parents and administrations who care more about appearances than consequences. In fact, they’re taking to social media in droves to explain why they’re leaving – the “teacher quit tok” category on TikTok has thousands of posts documenting the disrespect and lack of support which have motivated teachers to leave their careers.

Is it administrators, students, or parents? If you ask many teachers what the problem is, a lot of them would say all three. Not only that, but teachers are constrained by both their administration and progressive policies they’re forced to implement in their classrooms instead of actual disciplinary measures.

Educational policies like Restorative Circles, Behavior Intervention Support Team (BIST), and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) were created to supposedly make it easier for teachers to do their jobs and maintain order in the classroom. But many are finding the exact opposite, and it’s these educational policies in particular that are destroying passionate teachers.

A Crisis in Education

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the functioning landscape of almost every one of our institutions, and schools were one of the most visible examples of that evolution. Both teachers and students became subject to remote learning or school-from-home mandates, which in nearly every account to date were an unmitigated disaster. Once schools returned to in-person learning, the damage was done in the sense that, on average, students lost at least a year of learning.

Unfortunately, the consequences of Covid policies only exacerbated tensions that were already simmering between teachers and administrators pre-pandemic, according to many. When teachers returned to in-person learning, they returned to administrations that were more focused on raising test scores than caring about individual students and their needs or teacher concerns, and they returned to children who weren’t able to commit to a traditional classroom setting after a year of “Zoom school.”

The results of these tensions are unsettling. States across the nation are seeing teachers resign at an alarming rate, and for some states, like Washington, Maryland, and Louisiana, their current turnover rate exceeds any seen within the last decade. Many teachers are even resigning in the middle of the school year. Though many administrations and even the media are hesitant to call this a teacher shortage, teachers are leaving and continue to do so. Over time, those numbers will reflect a turnover that’s abnormally high for the education profession as a whole.

Of the reasons most often cited for leaving, frustrated teachers often point to burnout from the pandemic or a lack of support from their administrators. Low pay and contentious relationships between teachers and parents were also referenced. Teachers who have left the profession are becoming increasingly vocal on social media as to why exactly they are leaving.

One former teacher, Trish (known as Teacher Therapy on YouTube), has dedicated her channel to sharing her unfavorable experiences about her career, including why she left a job she once loved. In one particular video, she notes how support for teachers from administrators is completely gone, which has led to an increase in empowerment in students – and not for the better. 

Choosing Policies over Teachers

In the hours you could spend on outlets like Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok reading or watching posts from former teachers, student behavior is a prevalent issue that comes up again and again. Rather, it’s not just student behavior that teachers have issues with, but how that behavior is handled, and in some cases, rewarded.

Many public schools are subject to behavioral policies like BIST and PBIS. BIST in particular is described as a way to equip teachers with specific strategies and tactics so that students take responsibility for their own poor behavior. Similarly, PBIS is a set of policies or strategies enacted to “promote school safety and good behavior,” though admittedly, it’s about “prevention, not punishment.” These programs are often implemented in schools alongside what’s known as restorative circles, or “cocreating a safe, supportive space” where students are encouraged to “speak freely and listen actively” in classrooms.

All of these policies have emerged from educational foundations run by academics, some in direct response to the use of corporal punishment in schools – which is still legal in several states. At first glance, these policies look like the best opportunity for students to be heard and understood and for teachers to maintain a positive and productive learning environment. But if you ask the teachers, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Trish from Teacher Therapy cites PBIS and BIST specifically as the policies that harmed her classroom more than they helped it. Viewers in the comments section, many of them teachers themselves, overwhelmingly agree that these policies focus on hand-holding rather than discipline. They also emphasize how productive and well-behaved students are left behind as a result of these strategies, as teachers are often focused on using whatever recourse they have to motivate the poorly behaved students. Trish describes these schools as “chaos and mayhem” and adds, “strangely enough, those out-of-control schools are the very ones that gravitate toward these new age discipline philosophies.”

These “new age” practices include (in Trish’s school, at least) rewarding students with candy and iPad time when sent to the office for a reprimand, among other things. Trish also illustrates how sitting and talking in a “restorative circle” as a means of discipline trains badly behaved students to become manipulative, leaving administrators completely fooled and teachers alienated. Discipline in the classroom becomes a vicious circle – kids continue to act out and distract others from learning, teachers are still discouraged from disciplining them, and administrators become increasingly removed from classrooms and the teachers they’re meant to support.

In fact, many of the problems with the education system boil down to administrators and policy writers who are no longer in classrooms (or who never were) making decisions about teachers and classroom policies. They have either forgotten what it’s like or have no hands-on experience at all of what being a teacher and managing classroom behavior actually require.

All the while, these same administrators are pressuring teachers to increase classroom success and contribute positively to state and national test scores. But as many teachers know, when test scores go up, the administrators and schools receive praise – but when scores go down, it’s the teachers who have to answer for the failure.

The Future of Education

The amount of pressure on teachers is astounding. Lauran Wooley, one of the hosts of the Teachers Off Duty podcast, notes that the expectations both parents and society as a whole have of teachers are overwhelming and realistically impossible to achieve: “How am I supposed to prepare these kids for the next school year when they’re three years behind? Not only do I have to get them to pass this test, but I also have to get them to be a functioning human being in society. That is a huge weight to sit on your shoulders.”

A system that rewards immature and overindulged students instead of supporting its teachers is not a sustainable one, as we’re clearly seeing. Some teachers who leave switch to other schools, though most don’t – they leave education altogether and never return. 

Many would point to this as a failure of public schools, but teachers at private schools have reiterated many of the same concerns. Whether public or private, there’s an insular nature to many administrations which prioritizes data, numbers, and appealing if ineffective strategies over people. Any disciplinary strategy can look successful on paper. But teachers often have diametrically opposed accounts of how these policies undermine their authority, further enabling the student’s bad behavior and leaving the teacher powerless.

Teachers are leaving their careers and going where they feel supported and valued. Administrators and parents are puzzled as to why students continue to fail certain tasks or fail to learn certain skills, or why they act out at home and fail to mature. We expect teachers to do the coursework for them, as well as ensure that students become well-adjusted people. Administrators and parents have a hard road ahead of them – both in retaining teachers and encouraging an environment of respect and dignity in classrooms. 

Closing Thoughts

Our media is currently obsessed with teachers who interject their own personal opinions or proclivities into their teaching methods. But in that examination, we forget to support the teachers who actually have a passion for education. These are the individuals who always wanted to be teachers, and they’re also the individuals who are leaving the profession. 

We undervalue and undersupport them in favor of progressive policies, which, if you ask those with firsthand knowledge, just aren’t effective at maintaining order in classrooms. The teachers are the ones currently suffering from these policies, but it’s our maladjusted and poorly-educated kids who will suffer in the long run.

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