The conversation about the Nation’s teacher shortage isn’t happening in the media like it should. However, it’s definitely happening amongst teachers! I recently had the opportunity to participate in a conversation during class with teachers across Metro Atlanta. Teachers are stressed and burnt out already. I’m finding that more veteran teachers are choosing their health over the profession and newer teachers are leaving the profession after 3-4 years.
What can we do to slow down the teacher shortage?
One of the immediate things we can do is be intentional about having the conversation with teachers. I want to push the conversation regarding the immediate need for school districts to better support teachers to the forefront. Our lack of support towards teachers in the classroom, pay and being underappreciated through continual addition of more duties and programs to manage is causing quality teachers to leave the classroom. It’s problematic that quality teachers are leaving the classroom and no one’s stepping up to take our places.
We need to listen to teachers!
As more people hear about the teacher shortage, they want to know why are teachers leaving education. I can tell you why! Like many other public school teachers, at times we are gasping for air within the profession. The lack of support with classroom requirements outside of teaching, pay and stress are reasons many teachers are saying the profession isn’t worth it.
The impact is also seen in student achievement. That’s one reason why I agree 100% with the words of former Atlanta Public Schools Interim Superintendent, Errol Davis when he said, “We don’t have a failing school problem, we have a failing leadership problem!” And we do!
Figuring out the crisis with the teacher shortage is simple, sit down with teachers and ask the hard questions!
But after the conversation we must be ready to implement the solutions. Teachers can tell you why teachers are tired! We sometimes depend on data too much. Data collection is a part of the problem. Teachers are tired of teaching in public education that suffocates us and not supports us! Support isn’t rolling out new initiatives or programs that require teachers to do more. We are teachers, not scientists. Many of the road blocks teachers face are because we’re constantly being taken away from the art of teaching.
We can no longer look at school turnaround plans that don’t include improving the teacher’s experience. Below are words from a long, time Metro Atlanta teachers who summarize our experiences.
Metro Atlanta elementary school teacher: “I have worked very hard to become a teacher. Yet I feel as if I have wasted much of my time. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to go back to school. I owe thousands in loans on a degree that I have learned to dislike. I am a dedicated teacher.
Metro Atlanta middle school teacher: I went to work because I wanted to teach. I wanted to be there for the students; be a voice for them. Now I am always tired, sick and depressed. Between the politics and bad administration, I, like so many other teachers, are tired.
Metro Atlanta high school teacher: I have tried to continue to fight for the greater good. I have continued to remind myself that teaching is a gift. But I feel like I was saddled with a curse. I have gone to work in pain, sick, depressed and mentally exhausted. My students are so behind and below grade level, success feels impossible for them. Too often teachers, especially those in non traditional schools, don’t get the time to be off. We work through it all and honestly it doesn’t seem to help. My students data reflects failure and the school district place pressure on leaders because students 4-5 grade levels behind aren’t ready for graduation .“
Imagine if teachers are suffering like this in public schools, what’s happening to our children! Too often, we hear from school district and school leaders, but what about teachers? We must take the conversation from boardrooms and make changes in classrooms that support teachers, not overload them with paperwork.
So let’s talk solutions. In my experience, we spend too much time pushing parents to the polls for school board elections, but not teaching them why we need them engaged after elections. Parents need to know why it’s important to be involved during the school year and present at school board meetings. Accountability and growth begin with those who develop the policies and practices that govern schools. Too often, parents spend their time fussing at teachers are about the things we cannot control. In order for teachers and parents to be on the same page, parents must know their rights and where the wheel of accountability begins.
The words above from teachers are examples of why we need people on school boards who get the importance of improving school culture, teacher moral, student moral and engaging stakeholders leading schools. To fellow teachers who are leaving classrooms, why not make a positive change in how schools run by joining a school board. We also need parents to be heard and supported in getting their children what is needed for them to be successful.
Successful schools have students who are learning, parents who are engaged and teachers teaching beyond their students’ highest levels of success. This happens when a strong structure of support is in place. We don’t expect doctors to do vitals, check you in, observe you, etc. We expect them to come in and perform in their specialty area. Why don’t we have these expectations for teachers?
We expect teachers to be the counselor, communicator to parents, track progress, give tests and assessments, do various differentiated lessons, create detailed lessons plans that include modifications, observe, work with students one on one, manage overcrowded classrooms, work in poor conditions, with little resources, poor pay wages, no support for discipline and still do the main thing we are hired for, which is to teach.
Successful schools protect and empower their teachers through innovative practices and policies that are restorative as opposed to punitive. Moreover, successful schools are intentional about ensuring that their teachers are supported socially, emotionally, physically and mentally so that they can perform their great task, which is to teach the children!
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.