The Labor Logbook tells two stories: 24-year-old burned out teacher Lisa Whiteleather, and a handful of working college students enrolled at different universities. The first story illustrates the causes and effects of teacher turnover and how a young adult’s stressful job experience led her to discover her true passion. The second story delves into college students’ unique motives to work while in school. Integrating the latest career research into intriguing narratives, The Labor Logbook is relatable for everyone in or entering the professional world.
Depression, Fatigue, and Attrition: How School Districts Burn Out their Teachers
Lisa Whiteleather, 26, was known by her coworkers as the devoted young teacher who would escape burnout unlike the majority of Baltimore county’s new teachers.
Unfortunately, Lisa burned out.
With a bachelor’s degree in education, Lisa began teaching fifth grade in 2014 at a challenging Title I school in Baltimore county. She left her position last June.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 50% of new teachers leave the profession within five years.
Richard Ingersoll, an education scholar who studies teacher turnover and retention at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that the constant rate of teacher turnover costs school districts upwards of $2.2 billion a year.
Why do teachers stop teaching? Top reasons include challenging work conditions, not enough support, testa and data collection, and failure of the system to act in the students’ best interests.
No voice or choice
The main factor in Lisa’s reason for leaving was the issue of voice. “Imagine having zero input in key decisions in the building that affects your job. Being able to have input . . . isn’t that the lifeblood of a fulfilling job?” said Lisa.
One of these key decisions was standardized testing. In Lisa’s school district, standardized tests are used to evaluate and punish teachers. This test-and-punish approach to teacher evaluation caused Lisa’s school to ignore other factors affecting her students’ achievement like poverty and socioeconomic status.
“Some of my students came to school exhausted. Their clothes weren’t clean and their only meals were coming from the school. How are you going to convince them that a standardized test is what their priority should be when their basic needs aren’t even being met?”
Last year, The Baltimore Sun reported that less than half of Maryland elementary and middle schoolers pass the state’s tough new standardized tests, and the disparities in achievement are disheartening.
For instance, while 65 percent of Asian students passed the English test, only 23 percent of African-American students did. Also, only 13 percent of low-income students, and 5 percent of students who are learning English as a second language passed.
“These tests are full of racial and socioeconomic issues. They leave children behind,” said Lisa. “And then how can you hold the teacher accountable for their success or failure when there’s a lot of problems outside the teacher’s control? Kids aren’t going to test their way out of poverty.”
This educational expectation of teachers creates anxiety for teachers across the nation. “Lawmakers play down our ability and blame us for our students’ grades. They want to take away our fringe benefits. They want to take away everything from the possibility of having tenure to receive a decent pension,” said Lisa. “It’s really frustrating to have gone to school to do this, have been qualified for my job, and then to be told by people who have no experience what I should be doing in my classroom and what’s best for my individual students, and then not be fully compensated for it.”
Underpaid and overworked
New teachers in the majority of states feel like they aren’t paid enough. In Maryland, first year teachers make anywhere from $40,400 per year up to $46,561 per year, according to Maryland’s State Department of Education.
In most states, the teacher pay scale is based on seniority. “You get a raise each year, but it’s not based on merit, so the really bad teacher down the hallway will be getting paid the same amount as you because they’ve been there longer,” explained Lisa.
A 2015 study done by the Economic Policy institute found that the weekly wages of teachers in the United States were 17 percent lower than comparable college-educated professionals.
“I compared myself to my friends who also graduated with bachelor’s degrees. They had been in their career fields for three to five years. They were happy. I felt stuck. Like I’d wasted four years of college. I know I didn’t have to quit, but I was depressed, and I saw that depression affect my students,” said Lisa.
“It’s depressing when you plan an entire unit and your books won’t come on time because of school bureaucracy. It’s depressing when you can’t go out with your friends on Saturday night because your entire paycheck went to student loans, rent, and groceries. It’s depressing when you’re trying to meet the needs of your students academically, help them develop socially, focus on whatever the county is pushing at the moment, and try to be fifty different things at once while living paycheck to paycheck.”
Teacher attitude influences student performance. In 2015, researchers analyzed data on 520 third grade students around age eight in 27 classrooms in North Florida during the 2010-2011 school year. They discovered that as teacher depression symptoms increased, the learning environment tended to become poorer quality.
“The link between teacher depression and student performance is so real,” said Lisa. “Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing instead of focusing on teacher support is beyond me. I was always alone,” said Lisa.
Not enough support
Lack of a support system also put constant stress on Lisa. “During the first year of teaching, you’re supposed to have a mentor or partner teacher and I didn’t have any of those things. My school was so small that I was the only first-year teacher in my building so everybody was already established and they kind of just did their own thing. I had to figure it out on my own,” explained Lisa.
A report released last month by the nonprofit New Teacher Center revealed that states have largely failed to invest in programs that support new teachers. “They hand you the curriculum guide and it’s sink or swim,” said Lisa.
New teachers can also get placed in the worst schools in the district. “It’s extremely competitive to get into the really good schools, which is why the low-income schools have so many novice, inexperienced teachers who have no support systems and then burnout because there is nobody there to help them.”
This continuous cycle of new teachers entering and leaving low-income schools is a huge problem in Maryland, and most parts of the United States. Nearly half of new teachers who have completed between one to two years of teaching will have left the field by the beginning of the third full year, according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education’s 2014-2015 teacher and principal effectiveness ratings.
According to the State Department of Education, in the 2015-2016 school year, Maryland lost 4,536 of its approximate 60,000 teachers. Forty percent, or 1,815, of those lost teachers had five or fewer years of experience.
Further, 30% of teachers in the state have less than five years of experience. The average length of teacher service is nine years. Teachers with more than 20 years of experience account for about 16% of the teaching staff. According to the state data, teacher effectiveness plateaus after the fifth year.
Overpopulation is also common in American classrooms. “Last year, my largest class was 35 students and when you’re a new teacher and thirty five kids get handed to you, it’s overwhelming,” said Lisa.
Overcrowding is a serious problem in Baltimore County schools, and the district has little money in the budget for expansion, so just have to accept larger classes.
“There’s so much I had to figure out by myself in addition to learning how to teach them. I had to learn how to manage them, how to set behavior expectations, how to be able to contact their parents when I’m 22 and they’re 45 and I’m trying to tell them what’s wrong with their kid,”
Loss of personal connection with students is a common result of overpopulated classrooms. “I wanted to be able to give one-on-one attention to each student every day. I wanted students to be able to develop deep, lasting relationships with each other. I wanted my classroom to have that community atmosphere, but it was just too big,” said Lisa.
Class sizes are increased in an effort to avoid having to increase the budget enough to add a new teacher into the school system. This leads to low-income school districts having overcrowded classrooms and poor learning environments.
A new path
After Lisa quit teaching in June, she applied to law school. “My experience as a teacher made me realize how much I want to stop government overreaches and force the government to follow its own laws.”
Complaints of federal overreach in K-12 education have intensified throughout the years. “Less federal meddling and allowing the teachers to make decisions is necessary for education reform,” said Lisa.
Lisa is now a first-year law student at University of Baltimore.
Multimedia #1 &2:
Lisa’s Slideshow and Audio
Three Lessons Students Can Learn from Part-time Jobs
Coffee-guzzling, all-nighter-pulling, class-skipping-to-work-for-another-class college students — that’s pretty much how the four years go. However, 14 million college students still make time for a part-time job according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
The study also found that 40 percent of undergraduates work at least 30 hours per week while in college, but despite this, tuition is too high for those hours to make much of a difference.
As director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce Gary Carnevale pointed out in The Washington Post, even if students work full-time while in school, they would only earn $15000 a year at the federal minimum wage. That’s only half the tuition at an average private college, and it’s just a few thousand dollars more than tuition and fees at a public college.
If tuition rates are too high for students to work their way through college, why do they even work? It turns out that the reasons go beyond just wanting to have a little spending money.
Jobs push students to learn budgeting
“My parents paid for my tuition, books, room, and board. Everyone was always like, ‘Why get a job if you don’t have to?’” explained Delaney Van Wey, a senior at Syracuse University. Currently, Van Wey works 15-20 hours a week as a desk assistant at a residential building.
“I get why my friends think I should take advantage of the fact that my parents can financially support me through college, but I’m going to be independent sooner or later, and I like having my own hard-earned money.”
Indeed, there’s a special pride that comes with being able to buy something you want with your own money, and having a job teaches students how to manage their money and rely on themselves.
“Since freshmen year, I’ve had this system where I put a certain percentage of my paycheck into my savings and a certain percentage into my checking, and I’m pretty proud of that. The only reason I have this system is because my job pushed me to create it for myself,” said Van Wey.
A 2009 study from the University of Arizona and the National Endowment for Financial Education showed that students’ ability to handle money has declined by seven percent. It also showed that while 50 percent of college students have four or more credit cards, 80 percent of students fail to pay off their credit card bill.
“Schools don’t teach financial literacy,” said Taylor Shubert, a senior at George Mason University who works 20-25 hours a week at Panera Bread. “Colleges don’t offer many personal finance classes, and it’s sad. The best way to learn personal finance is to get a job, so that’s why I got one,” said Shubert.
When it comes to financial literacy, the U.S. fails. In a 2015 global study conducted by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Group and others, the U.S. ranked 14th with a financial literacy rate of 57 percent.
“You could require college students to take some Personal Finance 101 class, or you could just tell them to get a job,” said Shubert.
“You might have a phase, especially when you get your first few paychecks, where you blow it all on alcohol, take-out, and a bunch of other crap, and then you live off of cereal and Ramen for a month. That miserable month pushes you to start managing your money,” said Olivia Bergmann, a senior and part-time dance instructor at the University of Buffalo.
“It’s like, you have to go through that first paycheck euphoria, blow it all, and then be dirt poor so that you can learn how to save your money,” said Bergmann. “The most frugal students I know always have that miserable first paycheck story, and that experience really scares them into learning how to budget.”
Jobs help students learn their passion
College students tend to define their passion and then get a job, but this might limit the decisions they make about their career paths. In 2015, branding strategist Terri Trespicio did a TED Talk called, “Stop Searching For Your Passion.”
In Trespicio’s speech, she explained how young adults are too focused on a singular passion. “They think their job is to find it and pursue it to the exclusion of all else. And if they do that, they think everything will fall into place. And if they don’t, they think they will fail,” said Trespicio.
Instead of passion fueling success, Trespicio believes success fuels passion.
Kelsey Delpriore, a senior at Brockport University, found her passion by working for Brockport Student Government.
“I was always freaking out because I had no idea what my passion was. I thought something was wrong with me and I thought I would never get a job because of it,” explained Delpriore. “My roommate made me join student government with her when I was a sophomore. It made me realize how much I love representing the views of my peers, creating initiatives, and developing community projects. Now, I have a full-tim career where I get to do all of that.”
Delpriore’s experience is a perfect example of why you should just start doing rather than sitting around waiting for your passion to show up.
Jobs teach students to relax
Being extremely busy can help students appreciate the art of relaxing, at least that’s what it did for Hunter Samuelson, a senior at George Mason University.
“I feel like in America we’re taught to feel guilty for relaxing,” explained Samuelson. A 2015 survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by Princess Cruises found that a majority of Americans spend vacation days dealing with various errands like family emergencies, medical appointments, and taking care of loved ones. Thirty eight percent of respondents said they feel bad for relaxing.
“Think of it like exercise. If you don’t provide your body with rest, you can actually reverse the muscle-growing process and put your body in a destructive state,” explained Samuelson. “If you don’t take time to relax throughout a busy semester, you’ll break down. If you’re going to commit to a busy routine, you also have to commit to a rest and recovery routine.”
Taking fifteen credits while working 30 hours a week last semester forced Samuelson to relax on the weekends. “I started getting physically sick from being so stressed out. Mid-semester of last year, I emailed my manager and told him I needed off Friday through Sunday. Ever since then, I’ve realized how important it is to take care of yourself if you want to perform well,” said Samuelson.
Despite the intense workload, Samuelson said she would have never realized the importance of relaxation for optimal job performance.
College Student Infographic
Working student video
A peak at some of the interviewees:
Lisa Whiteleather, former middle school teacher and current first-year law student at University of Baltimore.
Olivia Bergmann, part-time dance instructor and senior at University of Buffalo.
Delaney Van Wey, part-time residential desk assistant and senior at Syracuse University.
Taylor Shubert, part-time associate trainer at Panera and senior at George Mason University.