Teachers are leaving the profession in high numbers but rarely do they explain their reasons—leaving everyone guessing. Money and mental health issues are frequently cited as possible explanations. A recent National Education Association survey revealed that 55% of their members are now contemplating leaving the profession earlier than previously planned. Over the years, I have followed up with many colleagues after they left their teaching posts, and most don’t articulate general reasons but recount specific events that impacted their decision.
A few years ago, I was pulled suddenly from class to interpret for a meeting; as a multilingual speaker I was often enlisted to interpret at any. given. time. I had not been briefed beforehand about this meeting and was asked to interpret for parents and one of my colleagues, a teacher who was not a new educator but was new to both our school and state. I was familiar with this teacher’s conscious efforts to reach out to families, passion for teaching, and ongoing effort to secure resources for her students. During this meeting, I kept the dialogue between all parties moving by listening and translating exactly what was said. Having been seated at the head of the table, however, I was expected to serve dual tasks, taking on the role of both translator and school leader. At the end, the parent interjected to say that the teacher hates her son. Stunned, I paused, wanting to soften the blow with diplomacy. I felt conflicted between my expertise of interpreting, which requires integrity, and my knowledge of the situation that needed sensibility. My training compelled me to choose the truth of words over the truth of reality. Clearly, I knew how much my colleague loved her students but accuracy ensured the parent was heard as she expressed in her native language. With a quick glance at my colleague I noted how she reacted, tearing up, lowering her head, and going silent. I felt stressed. I was dismissed back to my class but I wished that it didn’t end on that note. I wanted to help make amends between my colleague and the parent, I wanted to end with a positive resolution.
Fluency in various languages does not ensure rapport, it merely allows the school to meet its basic moral obligation of opening lines of communication. Building a positive school climate for students, their guardians, and teachers requires intention, time, and commitment, and not expecting that interpretation can achieve all of this in one setting. Parents who express a negative sentiment do not need to be corrected, they need to be heard and given options on ways to rectify the issue. They see the world through their children’s eyes and students will not enumerate the opportunities given to them to complete work as they are also often attempting to evade consequences. On the other hand, educators need extensive support to effectively engage in cross-cultural communication with the guardians they serve. They need emotional support from both their peers and school leaders.
My colleague left the profession, though she was later informed by many that this parent made accusations about multiple other teachers. What she wished was for this information to have come from an administrator who was aware, or to hear that her efforts in reaching out to this parents and child were appreciated, but the silence left her feeling inadequate. Clearly educators do not leave after one single incident but after a pattern becomes difficult to bear.
As schools continue to be more diverse, cross-cultural communication skills are integral to empowering educators. We must support our educators with improved internal communication including listening to teacher voices, and offer training targeted to their needs. Self-care alone does not make up for stress that arises from disrespect, cultural misunderstandings, or lack of resources. Like teaching to the whole child, we need to support the whole teacher.
About the Author
Leila Kubesch is the 2022 National Teachers Hall of Fame Inductee, professional speaker and consultant. She can be reached at LeilaKubesch@gmail.com