What Does America Know About Our Teachers? Really. 

Teaching is rarely "an event." We know many teachers can feel they have fairly invisible lives beyond the classroom. Last year when HMH commissioned an ethnographic research study of K–12 teachers in America, there was plenty that was revealed during the time we got to spend with these teachers, learning what motivates them and irks them, how they manage at school and at home, and even their hacks for one of the world's most underrated, intellectually- and emotionally-complex jobs. And, for what it’s worth, teaching is one of the least likely professions to be disrupted by automation in the coming decades.

This research, along with the HMH Annual Educator Confidence Report and the professional learning work our consultants do every day, continues to help us better understand the needs of our first and best constituent: Teachers. As part of the ethnographic study, our research partner spent time observing and interviewing 16 teachers in different towns and cities from morning until late at night as they prepared lessons, taught, and graded papers long past their own family’s bedtime. 

Inspired by all the teachers we met in the study and their candor in sharing their experiences inside and outside of school, we wanted to continue the journey by bringing forth some of these stories in a podcast series of conversations. So we began visiting classrooms and talking with educators who perform hundreds of small, but uncommon, acts every day as they provide learning oversight, equity, and nurturing to 55 million Americans—the country’s next generations.

Teachers interviewed on Teachers in America: Rachel Swartz, Wilson Boardman, and Amanda Rack

We captured aspects of teachers' roles and issues that as an industry and a culture, we don’t discuss: that many teachers are frustrated by the lack of consultation about, well, everything from school hours to what technology they can (and can’t) use; that parents can be both a source of support and fear; that often, teachers spend much more time serving as a counsellor than as an academic specialist on an average day given the social and emotional complexity in any classroom; that many teachers have second and even third jobs to pay off loans and support their families; and, importantly, that the values and motivations of teachers are not the same.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Three and a half million educators make up America’s largest single profession.

A goal of this podcast is to make clear that: 1) teachers are not a single homogenous group—they have as much regional, cultural, educational, academic, “fill-in-the-variable” specificity as the children they serve; and 2) teachers do not only "exist" in the space of the classroom or school—they each have unique contexts and passions that are part of their identity.  Almost everyone remembers when they first saw a teacher outside of school. Somehow, it’s shocking when teachers lay claim to life outside. Why is that? 

In our Teachers in America podcast series, we talk about what’s on teachers' minds: what keeps teachers teaching; how they feel about lockdowns in schools, their salaries, their own children; and how lonely teaching can be.

Teachers interviewed on Teachers in America: Brittany Mamphey, Georgette McClain, and Alexa Tegtmeier

We have found teachers through informal networks and sought those who could give voice to “the everyday of the classroom." They know that in the life of a child and young person, every day has an outsized impact on who they will become. 

We want to thank the teachers in our Teachers in America series who opened their classrooms and their hearts to us and taught us why teaching is emotional work, regardless of which principal or superintendent is in their district or what standards, platforms, or materials are in place.

If you’re a parent, we hope listening to Teachers in America will shed light on the complexity of your child’s teacher beyond what a newsletter or email says. If you are a school administrator, you will likely remember back to your teaching days and what mattered most then. If you’re a friend of a teacher, it might inspire you to ask about his or her work or even see if there is a way you can help (teachers love crowdfunding to solve classroom needs!). We hope the podcast inspires curiosity about and gratitude for America’s quiet heroes more broadly in your community. 

And, if you are a teacher listening, maybe you’ll hear an echo of your own feelings or a fragment of your story. We would love to hear from you and to include your voice on Teachers in America next season. Please email us at Shaped@hmhco.comto be featured on a future episode. 

Thanks for listening,

The HMH Learning Moments podcast team

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