*In order to understand the reasons BIPOC teachers are leaving education, the experiences of BIPOC teachers have to be considered with respect to the differences between the various identities comprising this categorization. BIPOC is a category made of distinct racial identities, and respectively, these identities uniquely impact the experience of being an educator. It was widely supported amongst community conversation participants to not collapse all experiences into an expansive not-white category. This consolidation requires us to neglect important distinctions and may eliminate nuanced explanations of experience in favor of a more homogeneous account of the experience of BIPOC educators. With an understanding of these flaws, we will use the term because participants consistently named, analyzed, and problematized the use of BIPOC.
Teachers are considering leaving education just to experience the type of workday that doesn’t require adherence to an urgent and uncompromising school schedule. Not only is it difficult for teachers to navigate the stringent time requirements of a professional educator, BIPOC teachers often feel pressure to accomplish more work within the school day than their white peers. A lot of the additional labor that BIPOC teachers perform does not stem from formal professional obligations but is a result of both internal and external expectations that BIPOC teachers play a uniquely supportive role for BIPOC students. BIPOC teachers often feel a sense of responsibility to be particularly supportive of BIPOC students because of the belief that without their extra labor, these students would not receive the support, understanding, and empowerment they deserve. Given that teaching often causes burnout due to the day-to-day requirements of the profession, it is difficult for BIPOC teachers to sustain their mental and physical health while trying to accomplish this additional labor in an already jam-packed school day. On top of navigating the student related labor, BIPOC teachers have to navigate relationships with coworkers and leadership in ways that make the day-to-day experience of being in a school quite taxing.
BIPOC teachers often function as the central figure that students and teachers look to for support and guidance. As one current educator noted, “You honestly become the unofficial spokesperson for anything that goes on in the community you’re a part of” and you are implicitly expected to carry out that task whether you want to or not. The pressure surrounding the appropriate execution of that task often makes BIPOC teachers feel as though they are overextended and overworked. A former teacher noted that the teachers she worked with referred to this dynamic as the ‘invisible caseload.’ Importantly, she noted that part of the problem of the caseload is that it compounds for teachers as they remain in the profession. During her time as a K-12 educator, she became the trusted teacher of color for many of her students, and over time those relationships led students to reach out to her for guidance and support long after she was their teacher. Although she welcomed the opportunity to support her former students, she noted that finding the time to provide them with advice or write them a letter of recommendation often felt impossible given her already crowded schedule as a full-time teacher.
However, many BIPOC teachers continue taking on this invisible caseload with hopes of allowing current and former students to receive the type of support they may not otherwise seek out or receive. As one current teacher put it, “A lot of times I saw teachers looking around and kind of feeling like well if I don’t protect these students and I’m not advocating for these students who the hell is going to advocate for these students? Because a lot of people are looking at these kids like they just have deficits because they’re Black, Brown and poor, and really it’s like no, they just need basic decent consideration… There was an element of ‘I don’t like being here; I would really like to quit.’ But then I feel like if I leave, there’s not going to be anybody here to advocate for these kids and treat them like the humans that they are.” BIPOC teachers are placed in a position where they must navigate these concerns while managing the intense demands of a typical school day.
Many of our community’s BIPOC teachers noted that one of the main reasons for exiting the profession was to secure employment that allowed for a more self-paced day. One former teacher who still works in education noted that returning to school buildings after being away from them for a while highlighted the anxiety that the school day and school environment can produce. As she put it, “What I noticed in going back and doing projects in schools every once in a while is the level of urgency and energy that’s let off in a school that just makes me so anxious now that I’m not used to the walkie-talkie fast hurry up everything, lunch room, the sound.”
Teachers referred to the development of ‘teacher bladder’ as a necessary requirement of the job as meeting the pace of the school day requires teachers to condition their physical needs in ways that align with the daily schedule. Many of their mental health needs, however, go unmet due to the demands of the school day. For one former teacher, meeting these demands required that she would sneak home during the day just to get 20 minutes of silence. Other former educators used strategies like walking around the school when they knew no one was outside or parking in their car just a few blocks away to get a moment of solitude so they could mentally recoup during the day. Not only does the school day limit educators’ ability to enjoy these micro forms of self-care, but major commitments like family events, vacations, and even doctor’s appointments have to bend around the demands of teaching.
Even with the additional stress brought on by the pressure of being positioned as the primary advocate for students of color, navigating the school day might still be sustainable if it wasn’t for the additional “racial battle fatigue” that is caused by other educators. One former teacher noted that while it’s one thing to navigate racial dynamics with students, particularly young students who are trying to make sense of things, the uncompensated labor of helping white educators navigate race during their work hours is a bridge too far. As she put it, “It’s cute when it’s a four-year-old, but when you’re having to help an adult white woman with her personal bias and you’re not getting paid for the work, it’s not cute.”
A current teacher noted that they feel an immense amount of pressure to help teachers develop a racial outlook that does not result in harm to BIPOC students. As she noted, “To feel that pressure of teaching another teacher about a student’s humanity, it felt like a heavy burden or responsibility as one of the few BIPOC teachers on campus.”
Retaining BIPOC teachers in an industry that forces educators to perform an overwhelming amount of work within a tightly constrained and inflexible schedule seems to be a difficult request. Many community members noted that the amount of pressure BIPOC teachers face day-in and day-out to complete their invisible and formal job obligations is overwhelming. If BIPOC teachers are to remain in the profession, it appears they need an arrangement that allows them to recoup from the physical and mental demands of the profession and a working arrangement that allows them to meet the demands of their personal lives.