An extraordinary educator that I know has moved to Ecuador where he has already landed a wonderful teaching position for the coming school year. He was an award winning instructor beloved by his students, but the lack of respect for his talent drove him to seek an opportunity to work where he will be held in high regard. He is not alone among American teachers in a quest for respect and dignity within a profession that has become more and more of a target for attacks from politicians and the public.
As a new school year looms ahead teachers are already gearing up for a season of working with our nation’s children. This year there is a kind of pall over the process as they learn of colleagues who decided to retire early, landed other jobs, or called it quits entirely. School districts are panicking over the unusually large number of vacancies that they are still attempting to fill with little success. Not even the Teach for America corp is able to fill the gaps, so they are reaching out to anyone who has a certification wherever they may live in the hopes that they will consider relocating to another city to take on a class. They are enticing recent college graduates with any major and in some cases offering to pay those who are still in the process of earning a degree an opportunity to work and study at the same time. The most desperate districts are even hiring individuals with only high school diplomas and GEDs to take up the slack as substitutes until a more qualified individual comes along.
I have a daughter who is certified to teach middle school science who is receiving offers from cities all over Texas. A niece is concerned that schools will have to open with highly unqualified individuals manning some classrooms. It seems that many teachers have simply had enough, but the important question is what is prompting the massive shortage of highly qualified teachers.
Teacher pay has always been subpar and yet there have been dedicated men and women who sacrificed monetary rewards for the more intangible recompense of having a profoundly important purpose in society. Most of these individuals were capable of entering a multitude of professions that might have made them wealthy, but they instead understood that teaching was one of the most important professions in any society. Good teachers build the foundation of a nation. Every individual depends on them to develop great minds and future workers. Without a strong educational system the economy collapses. Teachers know this even as they take the financial hit that gives them just enough income to survive, but never enough to rise into the ranks of wealth. They accept their fate because they are altruistic souls who find joy in having a profound purpose in life.
Teachers have willingly responded to the pandemic with characteristic devotion to their students. They have taught remotely, worked with masks, adapted to whatever was needed to keep things going. None of it was easy, but they carried on with only minor complaints. It was only when parents began to abuse them with untrue and unnecessary complaints that educators began to waver. Suddenly there were instances all over the country in which angry parents accused teachers of grooming and propagandizing their students. Legislatures banned books and rewrote curriculum. There were instances of excellent teachers being called on the carpet simply because one parent did not like what they were doing in the classroom. A dark cloud of fear hovered over every teacher’s mind as they considered whether or not teaching had become so toxic that the joy they had once derived was lost.
Bringing standardized testing back so soon after the disruptions created by the pandemic did not help to reassure anyone in the educational landscape. Teachers understood that many children had lost ground during the remote sessions. Some had been traumatized by losing members of their family. The 2021-22 school year should have been only about slowly returning to a more normal routine, but instead legislators decided to bring back testing and to grade teachers on their performances in preparing the students. It was a very bad idea to put so much pressure on everyone so soon. Then came yet another school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
I suppose that for some teachers that horrific loss of children and educators was the last straw. They saw that on top of every other difficulty that they now face as teachers there is always an element of danger just being at work each day. The thoughts and prayers for those who had died were not enough to convince many educators that the public cares enough about them to make their difficult working conditions worth enduring any longer. The exodus began in campus after campus and even in schools of education where enrollment is disturbingly down. Somehow the teaching profession has become increasingly unattractive because we have literally not appreciated those who work in schools as much as we should.
We need our teachers. They are the backbone of a working society. Without them we will collapse. It is untrue that anyone can teach. Good educating involves talents that not everyone possesses. Teachers play a multitude of roles inside a classroom. They understand how intricate each subject is and how the pieces of the educational puzzle work together. It takes a great deal of learning and experience to know these things and teachers have quietly and literally been donating hours of unpaid labor to become the best for the children that they encounter. As a society we have let them down and we should be ashamed, but it is not too late to rally as a nation and finally give them the respect and honor that is due them. If we abandon them it will be bad for all of us.