Teaching has become one of the most exhausting jobs in America. Teachers today navigate the threat of school shootings, a pandemic and growing political interference in their lesson plans, while their salaries stagnate.
Why is this important: Teachers wonder if shouldering those burdens is still worth it, and many experts warn of a looming staffing crisis.
“I am really worried about the profession in general, the number of people who leave, the quality of the applicants who are there,” said Brooke Olsen-Farrell, superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified School District in Vermont. “We have open positions with no applications, and it’s not just our district. It’s in every neighborhood.
The big picture: Teaching has long been an underpaid profession, but in the past two years America’s demands on its educators have increased.
- “I’ve held a lot of crying teachers as I walked through this country. They’re so overwhelmed and you can see the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association. , the greatest teacher in the country. union.
Details: When the pandemic hit, teachers were urged to engage in virtual instruction overnight — a task many felt unprepared for, both in terms of the skills and technology available to them and their students.
- When schools reopened, teachers became essential workers who risked infection – and their lives – to enter classrooms.
- They don’t feel safe in a country that has already seen 27 school shootings this year – horrific events that have teachers fearing for their lives and leaving students desperate for answers and assurances about their safety.
- “I feel like we’re sitting ducks in classrooms right now,” says Sari Beth Rosenberg, who teaches high school history in New York City.
- And their classrooms have become political minefields as lawmakers dictate what they can teach, what students read, and what programs are offered to help children meet their social and emotional needs.
Challenges : All of this is putting a strain on teachers, driving many out of the profession and contributing to a long-standing shortage that will outlast the pandemic.
- In the 1970s, the United States created about 200,000 new teachers a year. This figure has fallen to less than 90,000.
- A recent survey by the National Education Association found that 55% of educators – at various stages in their careers – plan to leave the profession sooner than expected, although it is unclear whether or not this wave of quits will occur. .
- And the shortage is hitting already underfunded schools the hardest: Middle schools in rural communities are seeing the steepest declines in the number of young people studying to become teachers.
Between the lines: Many Americans don’t understand the full picture of what teachers do and quickly diminish their importance, says Jane Rochmes, a sociologist who studies education at Christopher Newport University.
- On top of that, teachers don’t feel like they’re trusted on “how to teach, how to develop relationships with their students, or how to delve into complex issues over time,” Rochmes says. . “It can be undermining and demoralizing.”
However, the education system is always filled with passionate teachers who care deeply about their students.
- “It’s not necessarily appealing to just leave a career they’re often passionate about and feel like a calling,” Rochmes says.
- “I have a passion for teaching young people,” says Rosenberg, the history teacher. “They are facing a panoply of pandemics: the racism pandemic, the global pandemic, the gun pandemic, the climate crisis pandemic.
- “Classrooms could be our last great hope to help this generation find solutions to these crises,” she says.
And after: Olsen-Farrell and other administrators across the country are trying to find small ways to ease the burden on teachers.
- “We think about what we can get off their plates,” Olsen-Farrell said.
- This includes postponing professional development seminars, providing free breakfast and coffee, and additional paid time off. They are also asking parents and other community members to send messages of support and thank you cards.
- “It doesn’t necessarily improve the situation, but it does make it more tolerable,” Olsen-Farrell said.