What's It's REALLY Like
She gets up at 5:00, five mornings a week because she has two small children and has to drop them off at daycare before she arrives at work at 7:00 am. Her "official" work day ends at 3:00, but her boss constantly schedules meetings after she officially "gets off work," so most days she doesn't leave the office until 4:30, rushing to pick her kids up from daycare by 5:00. Her boss requires constant reports and plans, but doesn't allow her time during her workday to complete them. So, each night, she puts her children to bed at 8:00 then works on her paperwork and answers massive piles of email from her clients until 11:00 - because she knows she won't have time to do either during her actual work day. Even her weekends are sucked up by paperwork, emails, and planning. She's sad that her own children often lack her attention because of the demands of her job.
His work day starts at 8:15 and ends at 4:15 - officially anyway. But he must be in his office by 7:30, because that is the only time a group of his most important clients can meet. Three nights a week, he must go back to work after dinner and stay for 3-4 hours, because again, his clients need him during that time. He has to travel a lot…not for very long distances, just from county to county - and always after his "official" work day has ended. During those trips, the safety and success of his clients are his responsibility. Some nights, he doesn't get home until well past 10:00.
She loves her job. She has been doing it for thirty years. Her clients are demanding and unpredictable, but she enjoys the challenge of working with them. She used to think she would want to do this job forever, but lately, more and more she is considering walking away. Things have changed. Over the last several years, her employer kept raising the out of pocket costs of her healthcare benefits without bothering to give her a raise to cover those added costs. Her employer has also instituted a salary cap for long time employees, so she can no longer even earn raises. Her bosses - a Board made up of people with absolutely no experience in her field constantly tell their shareholders that she and her colleagues can't be trusted to do their jobs. Worse, they keep implementing policies and procedures that make it almost IMPOSSIBLE for them to succeed. The shareholders have become increasingly hostile to her and her employees. She's tired. As much as she adores working with her clients, she just doesn't think she can stand it much longer.
She messed up at work last week. She had warned her bosses repeatedly that her relationship with one of her clients was rapidly deteriorating. She asked - begged really - that the client be assigned to someone else, but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. She wasn't sure why this particular client disliked her so much. She had tried everything she knew to do to placate him - nothing had worked. For weeks, he had used discussion time in group sessions to try to embarrass her. He constantly interrupted her sessions. He made fun of the way she spoke, the clothes she wore, even the way she styled her hair. Last week, while she was leading an important discussion, he kept interrupting her and blurting out inappropriate comments and questions. At first, she had tried to ignore him, but then some of her other clients had joined in and she had lost complete control of the session. Everyone was giggling and pointing and making snarky comments - she finally became so frustrated that she snapped and blurted out a curse word. Not just any curse word, the one most people considered to be the worst of them all. Her clients were instantly silenced, but they reported her lapse in judgement to both her bosses and their shareholders. She hadn't been disciplined yet, but there was an ongoing "investigation" into her behavior and the shareholders were screaming for her head on a platter. Everyone was talking about it on social media, so there was no way she would ever live it down - or even get another job. She'd had to delete her own social media pages because shareholders were relentlessly stalking, harassing, and demanding she be immediately fired. Her career was probably over. One mistake, after years of excellent and loyal service, had effectively destroyed both her career and her reputation in the community.
His job is extremely high stakes and high pressure. He must meet almost impossible standards set by his bosses. He is expected to ensure his clients succeed, but he is never given the resources he needs to make that happen. He is supposed to be on vacation, but his bosses are requiring him to go to a three day conference for "professional development" (without paying him for his time of course). On top of that, he just received a whole new set of standards for how his work is judged and pages and pages of procedures he must learn to implement before his vacation is over. His employer had no intention of paying him for any of the time he was forced to dedicate to his job while on a so-called (and unpaid) vacation.
Her job lied to her. They told her there would be 22 clients in her sessions and that they would all be up to speed on the material she would be presenting them. When she arrived, she found 37 clients and discovered that some of them had no understanding of the advanced material she would be covering. She knows if she can't get all 37 clients proficient in the material in the small allotment of time she has been given, her boss will label her a failure. The worst part is, she was supposed to have a helper, but was told at the last minute that it wasn't possible due to budget cuts. She knows her task is impossible, but grits her teeth and does the best she can. She is sad, because she knows she will probably fail - and so will a lot of her clients. It won't matter to her bosses how hard she tries or how much her clients learn and grow. The only thing the bosses and shareholders will see is failure - and they will never acknowledge that they are the ones who caused this mess in the first place.
She was cursed out and physically threatened by one of her clients today. She reported it to her boss straight away, but was told the client was too valuable to have his contract terminated. Tomorrow, when she goes back to work, she knows that client will be there, right in front of her. Worse, she knows he will probably do it again because he knows there will be no consequences for his actions. She cries herself to sleep. She's scared. The thing she worries about most is that the cursing and threats will escalate to real violence and she (or one of her other clients) will be hurt. But there's nothing she can do about it. Her bosses have made it clear that they won't lift a finger to keep her safe.
Every single one of the people in these scenarios are public school teachers in North Carolina. Their clients are the children they teach and coach. Their bosses are local school boards and the North Carolina General Assembly. The shareholders are taxpayers and voters.
The average teacher works 54 hours a week during the school year. Their "summer vacations," are full of required conferences, compulsory "professional development," and learning new standards and procedures foisted upon them by politicians with no understanding of education. They are unpaid for all work they complete during these so-called vacations.
Please remember these teachers the next time you hear a Moore County Board of Education member insist that our teachers are "overpaid" when you "normalize" their hours. Consider that teachers work long hours outside of the classroom. Consider that they are not provided the resources they need to do their jobs effectively. Consider that their classrooms are overcrowded. Consider that many of the students they teach have behavioral and emotional problems that potentially endanger both the teachers and other students in their classroom. Consider that their effectiveness is judged on the basis of ONE standardized test given to their students at the end of the year.
Consider whether or not YOU would want to work in the conditions described above for as little pay and respect as we reward teachers with.
Teaching used to be one of the most valued and respected professions in this country. These days it is demeaned, demonized, and disrespected.
There is no teacher shortage in North Carolina.
There is a shortage of teachers who are willing to put up the deplorable treatment, pay, and working conditions we offer them.
And who can blame them, really?
Considering all of the above, I'm actually shocked the "shortage" isn't worse than it is.
***Commentary by Cheryl Christy. Cheryl can be reached at email@example.com