Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just three years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the 19th in our series.

When Ben started flipping desks in the classroom, his teacher Heather Boyle ushered the rest of her first-grade class into the hallway for safety.

Things had begun to unravel a few moments earlier, when Ben—whose real name isn’t being used, to protect his privacy—struggled with a math lesson. He crawled under desks, bumping into other children’s legs. When his classmates complained, Boyle asked him to come out. “I don’t know how to do this stupid math,” he screamed.

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