“Teachers are Shining Stars… and now it’s time to celebrate all the sacrifices they make for every child, every day,” according to the National PTA’s Teacher Appreciation Week toolkit. Parents nationwide will shower teachers with flowers, notes of gratitude, baked goods, and brunches this week. But a week of treats won’t compensate for the challenges public school teachers face in union-controlled school systems that refuse to enforce discipline or take responsibility for a learning loss and chronic absenteeism crisis.

report released by Pew Research Center last month revealed that the vast majority of K-12 public school teachers feel that their jobs are frequently stressful and overwhelming. When asked if they would advise a young person embarking upon a career to become a teacher, 52% said no. Half of the teachers described the academic performance and discipline of the students in their schools as “fair or poor.”

The majority of teachers are struggling to educate students who were utterly failed by the K-12 system during the COVID era. Pew Research found that about 80% of teachers “say the lasting impact of the pandemic on students’ behavior, academic performance, and emotional well-being has been very or somewhat negative.” One-third of teachers report that the impact has been “very negative.”

Almost half of surveyed teachers identified chronic absenteeism—students missing more than 10% of school days—as a major problem at their school. The pervasiveness of teachers’ concerns is understandable with chronic absenteeism rates doubling since 2019 and hovering around 30% nationwide. High school teachers are especially concerned about students missing class, with 61% viewing chronic absenteeism as a major issue.

The more students miss school days, the further they fall behind, which causes them to become increasingly frustrated and restless during class. Chronically absent students are more likely to distract both teachers and other students on the days they are in school. As Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, points out, “Chronic absenteeism affects more than just the absent students. Teachers tasked with helping absent students catch up find it harder to stick with lesson plans, maintain consistent expectations, or fully engage students with more regular attendance.”

Too many public school teachers work in unsafe schools. Among the teachers surveyed by the Pew Research Center, 68% reported experiencing verbal abuse from a student, including being threatened, and 40% of teachers have dealt with a student being violent toward them. With 66% of teachers saying that their school’s discipline policies are “very or somewhat mild,” there is little hope for improvement as discipline issues disrupt classroom learning and endanger teachers and students. Even if teachers wanted to discipline their unruly students, their hands are tied by irresponsible discipline policies imposed by K-12 bureaucracies. More than two-thirds of surveyed teachers (67%) believe that school districts do not grant teachers enough influence over discipline practices at their schools.

Chaotic classrooms and frequently absent and disruptive students result in miserable teachers. Pew Research Center found that the “vast majority of teachers (82%) say that the overall state of public K-12 education has gotten worse in the last five years.” Sadly, “53% of teachers expect the state of public K-12 education to be worse five years from now.”

Given teachers’ deep concerns, why aren’t teachers unions prioritizing their members’ needs and demanding that school districts improve discipline and attendance policies? Union leaders like Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Stacy Davis Gates are too busy calling for “police-free schools” and mandatory annual restorative practices training. Restorative justice policies resulted in chaotic and unsafe school environments, so the CTU, as well as the National Education Association and the American Federation for Teachers, are demanding policies that will just make teachers more miserable.

Fortunately, public school educators can leave union-controlled public school systems and either teach elsewhere or launch their own schools. Even if they are fond of the generous pension and insurance benefits provided by the public system, public school teachers aren’t trapped. As states continue to expand school choice programs, the demand for talented teachers will grow among alternatives to the traditional public school system. Teachers, along with students, can shift to happier and healthier environments. As documented among Florida educators thriving in the state’s abundance of educational options, teachers’ job satisfaction will improve as they depart from chaotic residentially-assigned public schools for calmer classrooms in private schools, micro-schools, and classical charter schools.

For years, teachers, parents, and policy wonks have been calling for public school system leaders to address the problems that their policies create for public school teachers. With few exceptions, school districts continue to fail the students they serve and the teachers they employ. With education freedom expanding across the nation, more teachers will have the opportunity to pave a path to a happier career and work in environments that prioritize their needs.