Why Teachers Quit
We pay more to mold castings than character. The Little Red School-house is a sweatshop
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS ago Stephen Leacock described his eight years of schoolteaching as . . . "an experience which has left me with a rofound sympathy for the many gifted and rilliant men who are compelled to spend their ves in the most dreary, the most thankless and the orst-paid profession in the world.”
! Conditions haven’t changed much since Leacock iade this statement. And, like Leacock, thousands f teachers every year are forced to . . . “give up îhoolteaching in disgust.” According to a survey iade last February by the Canada Newfoundland Educational Association—a body that collects iucational data from all over the Dominion— iere were at that time over 4,000 too few qualified »achers to take charge of the nation’s classroom. :'he secretary of the association estimated that over ie past four years at least 120,000 Canadian
children have been in the hands of unqualified teachers, despite the fact that before the war there was a surplus of experienced teachers.
One of the best teachers I ever knew was principal of a six-room continuation school in a Saskatchewan town. Every evening he dug into his university extramural courses books for two or three hours; his week ends and holidays he spent in the same way; during summer vacations he attended summer school. Finally, after about eight years of this heartless grind, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts Degree. Although he had this standing coupled with his experience and excellent reputation, and he could have picked his own job, he quit schoolteaching cold and became a salesman ... on commission.
Crazy, you say ! Maybe. But during his teaching years he and his family lived in a small rented shack, drove around in a broken-down jalopy and existed on—at its highest point— a salary of $1,600 per year. Last, time I saw him, just before the war, he owned a good home in the city, was driving a big new car and was earning about three times what he’d been getting as a schoolteacher.
He told me, rather wistfully, that he’d much prefer the actual work of schoolteaching to his new
work. But it just wasn’t fair to his wife and family to continue at. it.
Use Untrained Students
ANOTHER TEACHER I was talking to recently was seriously considering leaving his job to take one on a farm. As a teacher he is getting more salary than ever before, but discovered to his surprise that, good farm hands are getting more.
It is a matter of record that just as soon as jobs of any kind are available teachers leave the profession in droves. If is estimated that during the war years at least 30,000 teachers, enough to staff half the country’s schoolrooms, quit teaching and took ot her jobs, many of them never to return. The loss in experience and money is incalculable.
The result was that in every province it was necessary to grant special permits to untrained high-school kids and send them out as teachers. A CNEA survey of educational developments made in 1944 showed that one quarter of the 3,400 school departments in Nova Scotia were staffed by teachers wit h little or no professional training. Quebec was forced to use 969 of these unqualified teachers, Ontario, 1,300; Continued on page 44
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Manitoba 600, while Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and British Columbia all were forced to lower their standards and dig up teachers who had long been out of the profession. Despite these expediencies many schools across the country were forced to close up shop for lack of teachers of any kind.
So great was the exodus from the profession that the Government finally had to “freeze” teachers in their jobs ... a ball and chain to keep personnel in the profession.
And it is by no means just the failures in the profession who get out. Industry is constantly luring good teachers from their classrooms with the promise of better pay and more reasonable living conditions.
Take the case of one brilliant young teacher I met in the Navy. For a man of his age he was doing remarkably well, holding the position of a mathematics specialist in a large technical school. But in spite of that he was determined not to return to teaching.
Why was he willing to throw away his years of training and bus standing? He explained it this way, ‘“Sure I’m doing all right now. But I’ll never do any better. The most 1 can ever hope to earn is $3,500 a year, and to do that I’ve got to become a principal . . . about one chance in 40.” So he was getting out while the getting was good.
Salary statistics for the 25 leading Canadian cities, which represent the top in the profession, bear out his opinion. In only eight of these is the maximum salary for male high-school teachers, including principals, over $3,500 per annum, and in all but four t he minimum is under $2,000. Compare these salaries with the earnings of your top doctors, lawyers, engineers or dentists.
Sorry to Leave
This lack of opportunity for advancement no doubt accounts for the fact that the average professional life of all Canadian teachers is only seven and one half years. Of course most women who leave the profession do so to get married, but the really alarming fact is that the average male teacher stays in the profession only eight years. Such a mortality rate in any other profession would be considered a major disaster.
And in most eases teachers abandon their work with the greatest reluctance and only after they have hung on for a number of years in the vain hope that conditions will improve. As one authority puts it . . . “The wonder is not that so many people have left the profession, but that, so many have stuck it out.”
This is a sad thing for the unfortunates who have, through a sincere and honest desire to teach, wasted so much time and money. But it is a far sadder thing for the citizens of Canada who are willing to entrust their children for five and a half hours per day to the care of persons whom they consider worth no more than street cleaners, garbage collectors and janitors.
Not only have the teachers who quit during the war years not gone hack, but young people are not taking up teaching. Although universities are crowded to two and three times their
capacity, normal school enrolments are barely up to the figures of pre-war years. Four provinces . . . Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Alberta reported last spring that prospects for normal school enrolments were poor; Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan reported prospects only fair and British Columbia alone reported prospects to be good. In Alberta it is estimated that the enrolment in the one-year course will hardly take care of one half the present shortage, let alone provide regular replacements.
What are the reasons? Well, there are several, but the biggest is the one that hits straight at the pocketbook. This is pretty conclusively proved by the fact that the province paying the lowest salaries (Prince Edward Island) has the highest turnover rate of teachers, while the province paying the highest salaries (British Columbia) has just about the lowest.
Castings Worth More?
Teachers are perhaps the least money-minded group of people in the country, but like everybody else they cannot he content or do their best work unless they are paid enough to live on. During the past 16 years teachers’ salaries have been disgracefully low. The last complete survey, made in 1941, revealed that the median teachers’ salary for the whole Dominion, which means that half the teachers received less, was $728 per year, as compared with a median salary for industrial workers of approximately $1,060.
Canadians evidently consider it worth more to mold a casting than a character. Another almost unbelievable but true figure revealed at that time was that one quarter of our teachers were receiving less than $537 for a whole year’s work.
Of course teachers’ salaries along with everything else have taken a jump since then. But while industrial workers and even farmers have been striking for higher pay, teachers have maintained their customary dignified silence, with the result that their pay has lagged far behind the rising cost of living. One CNEA official estimates the present median salary at about $1,000 per year.
A glance at the advertisements shows it isn’t too difficult to better that figure. In a recent Montreal paper a teacher was offered $90 per month, a housekeeper $75, plus board, a stenographer $120, a salesgirl $125.
Dayworkers, who refuse to do any heavy housework or look after children, are asking and getting $5 per day, plus meals and carfare. This figures out to $30 per week. Less than $20 per week is paid to half our teachers. Of course the teacher might bring her earnings up to $25, by hiring out for daywork on Saturdays, but school boards would likely object.
And the teacher has many expenses unknown to the household worker. She must dress respectably, attend all local functions, subscribe to everything from the girl guides to the home for ailing pooches and pay five per cent of her salary into a retirement fund, which in many cases she will never use.
In a column of “Teachers Wanted” ads in a large city newspaper in the Province of Ontario—the province which next to B. C. pays the highest salaries to teachers—five town or city
schools offered less than $1,600 per year for experienced teachers. Right below a “Laborers Wanted” ad offered 65 cents per hour, which figures out for an eight-hour day to $1,622.40 per year — more money for unskilled laborers than for experienced professional men.
Since teachers depend for their pay almost entirely upon the local taxpayer, jiîst as soon as that worthy feels the pinch teachers’ salaries take a nose dive. Many teachers who left the profession remember the depression, when salaries hit rock bottom and stayed there.
They remember the indignity of having to accept relief while trying to instill into their students the principles of good citizenship; they remember having to borrow money to get home for Christmas; they remember trying to look respectable in threadbare clothing; they remember being paid off in school board notes that no bank would touch. Such degrading and humiliating conditions completely killed their enthusiasm for teaching.
It is a sad reflection on teaching that most comparisons are made with unskilled trades rather than with the other professions. But the preparation for teaching is as arduous and as expensive as that of the other professions. It is true that after a one-year normal school course you can go out and teach for a while. But in order to go on and have any chance of getting a decent salary . . . say $2,500 per year . . . you must have a Bachelor of Arts Degree, at least, and preferably a Bachelor of Education or a Master of Arts.
This means five or six years beyond junior matriculation. Figuring at least $1,000 per year as the cost of education —not taking into account the loss in earnings during the training period— this is no mean sum to pitch out the. window.
But although a dollar sign symbolizes a large part of the teachers’ beefs, there are other factors that help to make teaching unattractive.
Living conditions, for example.
$550 and a Pig
Anyone starting out expects to have a fairly rugged time at first, but teachers under our present system of scattered, isolated rural schools have it far tougher than others. My own early experience, although it happened over a dozen years ago, is still fairly typical of what many young teachers go through.
My first school was situated in the treeless tundra of southwestern Saskatchewan, 20 miles from the nearest town. This is rolling country, and from the school I could not see another building except the school barn. I lived alone in two draughty, damp, miceinfested rooms in the basement of the school. I had no radio and few books. My chief amusements were shooting gophers and tramping across the country.
Besides being the teacher I was janitor and my own housekeeper. For teaching eight grades, ranging from Crade One to Grade 10, I received $550 per year, but not in cash. The ratepayers paid off part of their taxes by bringing me provisions. One family brought a quarter of pork, another supplied milk, another vegetables and so on. During the five months I was
there I didn’t get my hands on enough cash to buy a new suit of clothes.
1 managed to get to town twice during the winter by riding on loads of grain. But there wasn’t even a moving picture theatre in the town. Often, because of bad weather, I didn’t get mail for weeks.
Water is scarce in that country, and the school had no well. Each day’s water supply was brought in a fivegallon cream can by one of the students. But one day it was necessary to discipline the water carrier, and he refused to bring any more. I complained to the school board but, not wanting to start a district row, they did nothing. So from then on each child brought his own little pail of water with his lunch and I carried mine from the nearest farm . . . two miles away.
Of course this all may have been good experience—in a deadening sort of way —but it did little to endear teaching to me.
All rural and small-town teachers, by fer the majority in the profession in Canada, are to some extent affected by local politics. I know of one teacher who, on arriving at a new school, was met at the train by a friendly soul who suggested that his home would be a good place for the teacher to board. The teacher looked it over, liked it and moved in, only to discover soon after that his host and the chairman of the school board had been feuding for years. But the teacher liked his boardinghouse and, believing that he had the right to choose his home, refused to move. He lasted one term. He then decided that it wasn’t worth while to look for another school and took up accountancy instead.
It may be argued that a teacher who quits for such a reason is no loss. But if this is so, it doesn’t speak well for a profession whose adherents must allow themselves to be kicked around unmercifully.
Another factor that keeps young ’ people out of the profession and makes many teachers self-conscious and almost ashamed to admit that they are teachers is the old “Ichabod Crane” concept of the schoolmarm, which still persists in many minds. Did you ever hear a characterization of a schoolteacher on the radio that didn’t make him out to be a blundering, absentminded fool or worse? Cartoonists show teachers as spindly, long-nosed, bespectacled individuals . . . always good for a laugh. Most people are like the little boy in the old chestnut who, when asked to name the sexes, said, “Male, female and schoolteacher.”
No Time of Ilis Own
The tendency to expect the teacher to be perfect in all things is another galling practice. Bestowing on a man or woman a teaching certificate doesn’t take away all his natural human urges. He likes a little game with the boys now and then just the same as anybody else; or she likes to pretty herself up with cosmetics same as a normal female; lady teachers have been fired for this. But what really burns teachers is that the very same people who expect them to be paragons of all virtues criticize them for being fuddy-duds and old maids.
A friend of mine lost his job because he was seen by the chairman of the school board celebrating the end of a term with one glass of beer in the local beer parlor. It made no difference that the chairman himself had been there tossing them off most of the afternoon. A man may be one of the boys, but in the matter of his children
sad his schoolteacher—he’s strict.
No one will argue that a teacher’s behavior shouldn’t be good. It should
be just as good and perhaps a little better than that of the doctor or the lawyer or the banker. But it has never been proved that taking a small drink in private now and then, smoking and generally behaving like a normal adult human being makes a man any less capable of teaching children, or for that matter detracts in any way from the respect and esteem his pupils have for him. On the contrary.
Also, since the teacher’s salary is paid largely by local taxation, every individual and organization in the district are inclined to feel that they own a little piece of him. The teacher is expected to teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, coach the ladies’ softball team, lead the boy scouts—in fact do any little chores that may be kicking around the community. If he does all that he is expected to do, he hasn’t enough time for his work and absolutely none to himself; if he doesn’t, in normal times he is liable to be looking for another school.
And, of course, everybody feels perfectly competent and, in fact, obliged to criticize the teacher. Sometimes it goes much farther than criticism. I shall never forget an incident which occurred when I was teaching high school just before the war. I arrived home on the last day of June, worn to a rag, having gone through the hell of marking some 300 examination papers, making out and distributing report cards as well as taking care of the thousand and one other chores incidental to closing up school for the term.
“You Failed My Boy!’’
I had just sunk into a chair and was letting the wrinkles ease out of my forehead when there was a loud banging on my front door. An irate parent wanted to know who in blazes 1 thought 1 was, failing his boy. I explained that I hadn’t failed his boy, his boy had taken care of that himself, and 1 pointed out further that I had warned both father and son some months earlier of this inevitable outcome of the son’s lazy and careless ways. Thereupon, in the presence of my wife and little girl, 1 heard myself called every kind of foul name he could lay his tongue to.
He used words and said things that he never w'ould have used or said to anyone else under any circumstances. But I was just the schoolteacher and so he could let go. The fact that his boy was in a hockey team that 1 coached and in a boys’ club that I led didn’t make any difference to him. No blankety blank schoolteacher was going to do this to him.
Now it is a fact that few parents go to this extreme, but it also is a fact that a good many parents—without saying so perhaps—honestly believe that they know as much about teaching as the teacher. After all a man who is being paid less than a junior bank clerk can’t be any great shucks. This attitude carries over to the children and makes the teacher’s job just that much tougher.
Then there is that persistent myth about schoolteachers working five and a half hours a day, five days a week for approximately nine months of the year. Sounds like a pretty soft touch. And for a limited number of specialists in large schools it may be almost true. But for the ordinary classroom teacher who teaches at least six subjects to one, two, and in many cases more grades it is just a laugh.
True there are only five and a half hours of actual classroom time, but all lessons must be prepared beforehand. In many instances this is about the same as preparing a half-hour speech or lecture. Then the work must be outlined, questions planned, projects ar-
ranged, board work prepared, and so on. Not to mention the pile of exercise books to be marked and tests to be graded that each period leaves in its wake.
Very few teachers spend less than three hours a day in preparation work, many spend twice that time. That brings the hours up to at least eight and a half and without taking into consideration all those extras that most teachers do.
And those summer holidays. I wonder what the average wage earner would say if he were compelled to take a two-month layoff, without pay, every summer. That is precisely what happens to the schoolteacher. But he has to live those two months and support his family, and he isn’t trained for any other work. Besides, more often than not, he attends a summer school course, which costs extra. Even the most experienced teachers and those with the highest qualifications cannotaf-
ford to neglect regular refresher courses.
The number of teachers suffering nervous breakdowns and being confined to sanitariums each year is appalling. They don’t get that way by sitting around the schoolyard watching the grass grow. Their condition is the result of overwork, worry and frustration.
Frustration is the worst of all. A sincere, conscientious teacher finding himself compelled to do a second-rate job on precious human material, because of a lack of equipment, time and an appreciation of the importance of his work, suffers the tortures of the damned.
In no other profession are you bound so tightly or handicapped so miserably by the whims of your employees. Imagine a doctor who couldn’t perform a necessary operation because the secretary of a health board was opposed to spending the money for the equipment. Or suppose that the dentist was forced to declare all children’s
teeth to be soundalthough he knew better—-for fear of losing his position. Preposterous, of course. These men are dealing with hearts and lungs and teeth.
But the teacher is dealing with brains and personalities, which he considers to be at least as important and as much in need of expert care.
It would be unfair not to mention the steps that are being taken in some provinces to improve the teachers’ lot and thus education generally.
In British Columbia some of the teachers’ headaches have been removed by recent developments which reduced the number of school districts from 861 to 74, increased the share of educational costs paid by the Provincial Government, established a fair salary scale and increased the amounts to be spent on buildings and equipment.
Alberta has made an attempt to improve the status of the profession by bringing all teachers’ training under the university faculty of education,
Saskatchewan has adopted the larger unit of administration and provided for a minimum salary for qualified teachers of $1,200. Manitoba has improved teachers’ training by opening in Winnipeg the first residential normal school in the country.
In Ontario provincial grants have been increased and a $1,200 minimum salary set for virtually all teachers. New Brunswick has . . . “a publicity , program that calls attention to the improvea status of teachers.”
It is doubtful, however, if these measures will cause any great rush back into the profession. Improvements more far-reaching and fundamental are needed—and soon. Until the people of Canada realize that teachers are among the most important people in the community, and until they pay and treat them as such, good teachers will continue to leave the profession—and the general quality of education in this country will suffer accordingly. -A