Around the summer of this year, it was revealed that teachers have been quitting at a higher rate than usual. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 44 percent of public schools have reported teaching vacancies. More than half of them are resignations. This has resulted in schools needing to find more staff, and many of them struggle to do so. As a result, some state governments are attempting to simplify the process of becoming an educator. Florida, for example, is allowing veterans to teach without any degrees while also holding a temporary certificate. However, while it might make it easier to fill empty positions, the resignations show that there is a lot of work that comes with being a teacher, and that work is often ignored. With COVID, the work increased, and the rewards became smaller.
As mentioned earlier, the resignations have mostly been driven by the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with a lack of pay among other problems. However, the pandemic didn’t cause these problems; they were merely amplified. One of those problems is that teachers felt like they weren’t valued. They were merely there to supervise the kids and teach them what the parents wanted them to learn. Not only that, but they had to teach in the middle of the pandemic in states where COVID protections weren’t taken as seriously. This resulted in many of them feeling vulnerable and powerless.
Another reason is the lack of pay. The lack of pay for teachers has been a problem for a while, but the pandemic meant that teachers were receiving less compensation and more work. According to the National Education Association, starting salaries for teachers in the 2020-21 school year were the lowest in a decade. In addition, according to one interview done by Bloomberg, Texas mandated a 60-hour training course for K-3 teachers and left it up to the districts to decide if they wanted to pay the teachers. Some of the districts did not pay anything. In addition, a lot of the skills required for being a teacher also applied to fields that paid better and actually valued the people there, such as publishing and recruitment. All of this added to the feeling that teachers were powerless, and despite what the name would suggest, not there to teach the students, but to be echo chambers for parents and bureaucracy.
Another reason that some teachers have felt undervalued to the point of quitting is that they feel as though their jobs are being compromised in the name of culture wars, resulting in them being villainized in the eyes of parents. In the past year or so, there have been several laws passed in red states limiting what teachers can or can’t discuss in class. For example, there is the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, which prohibits K-3 teachers from discussing topics related to gender identity or sexuality even if it is done in an age-appropriate manner. There have also been laws in other states against teaching “critical race theory.” While critical race theory is, in fact, a legitimate theory, it tends to be used as a buzzword by politicians and parents that don’t want their kids learning about racial discrimination. There have also been many book bans this year, a notable example being a ban on Maus in a Tennessee school district. For teachers that pride themselves on preparing students for the world, being targeted for teaching topics that exist in the real world adds to the feeling that their higher-ups, both at the district level and the state level, see them as untrustworthy, expendable, and merely there to serve as “cogs in the machine,” rather than as proper educators.
When taking into account the things educators have put up with in the past year, such as COVID, not being compensated enough, and their entire profession becoming politicized, it is no surprise that there have been so many resignations. In the Bloomberg article that was previously mentioned, the former teachers that were interviewed were asked what it would take for them to stay in teaching, most of the answers were variations of “better pay” and “more respect.” If we want qualified, caring teachers to stay as teachers, then the solution is to not just pay them better, but to take into account all the things they do and trust them to actually teach.
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