If you have paid attention to any news headline in any given state, district you have seen a teacher shortage and districts scrambling to figure out at the last minute how to fill HUNDREDS of positions. Just do a quick Google Search: teacher shortage and watch what comes up.
Now let me tell you, this did not happen overnight. This did not start with COVID or any controversial issue or curriculum mandate or even laws/regulations put into place. This started DECADES AGO!!!! You hear me DECADES!!!
I remember being high school wanting to become a teacher and being asked “are you sure? They do not get paid what they are worth. Things are changing. It is not just a job.” I heard those voices from teachers in the back of my mind as I struggled to make a decision. I remember sitting in a class at the local community college and teachers were present because they had to earn so many college credits to maintain their certification. SAY WHAT NOW!!! You mean to tell me I have a degree, I have to keep going to school after I graduate. PLOT TWIST: you pay for that course out of your pocket, if you are lucky enough the district pays or reimburses you. That reimbursement comes with so much red tape so many just don’t even bother. If the district pays it will be course work that will not benefit you or your students because the information will be so outdated and irrelevant the course will bore you to tears.
Then came No Child Left Behind…listen they left so many children behind with that. That expired and we got Every Child Will Succeed…more lies and smoke screens. The achievement gap is not Grand Canyon wide and deep.
Guess what population of students constantly get the short end of the stick? Guess who is still being left behind, who is affected the most by laws/regulations/decisions, guess who is stuck in overcrowded classrooms with mold, outdated textbooks, astronomical amounts of behavior challenges, lack of resources, high teacher turnover, high discipline issues and issued….let me spell it out for you
Our black and brown children. Our children whose parents cannot afford the after school tutor. Our children who are coming from working class and the working poor. It is not just the poor anymore. If you do not have the means for tutors your child will suffer. If you do not have books of all genres in your house, your child will suffer. If you are working and your child goes to before and/or after school care, your child will suffer. If you have older children who are in sports and now the whole family is going to and fro to support games and practices, your child will suffer. If you are not carving out time to sit and talk with and to your child, your child will suffer.
This is no longer about who is not going on family vacations. This is about BASIC everyday skills that we forget/forgot about. TALKING at this point is a lost art. When a child enters kindergarten and did not attend pre-k or preschool, they are starting FIVE YEARS BEHIND!!!!
Kindergarten: they are expected to read by the end generally a level D (at least 4 sentences on a page, familiar and unfamiliar words/vocabulary, fiction and non-fiction), write a paragraph (4 sentences)
Now think about that child who comes into school only knowing their name. Not recognizing it just knowing it when an adult calls it and I am talking about their government name. Our roster does not have nicknames on it. We get the name on the birth certificate. This child comes into our classroom and they are expected to end at the same place as the child who comes in knowing all their letter and some letter sounds, can write their first name, and can read a few words (like, see, the, cat, dog). Then there is that child that can write their first and last names, read a book and tell you what it was about, knows all the letter sounds, has traveled outside of their state and should probably skip a grade but socially they are not ready. Again all are expected to end at the same place but when they start they are at different places. Now let’s add that child who has delay but we don’t know it so we monitor their development. Add the behavior child. The child who’s native tongue is not English. We do not have only five children in our classrooms. So take each child and multiple it by five. That’s being nice to have it evenly split. Most cases it is not and our classrooms are always unbalanced. There is no full time assistant teacher in the classroom in kindergarten. Some states still have this but not all. Some states have a cap on the number of students allowed and some do not and some just don’t care. Those kindergarten students come to first grade rather they are on grade level or not. Then they keep going up and up no matter what. Most districts won’t even entertain retaining a child until 3rd grade. You know how much damage is done by 3rd grade. Every research shows that if a child is NOT on grade level by the end of 3rd grade they may not ever catch up. They look at 3rd grade reading levels and determine if the child will grow up to live a life a crime. Jails and prisons are full of adults who are illiterate and struggled academically. Education has become a business. Education and the school to prison pipeline are now full-time partners. “Politicians and journalists often claim prison planners use third grade reading scores to predict the number of future prison beds needed” from The Relationship Between Incarceration and Low Literacy https://literacymidsouth.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/incarceration-and-low-literacy/
PROBLEM 1: Over Crowded Classrooms
24 kids plus ONE adult in a space meant for 15 kids is a problem. We can all safely agree that the kids today are not the same as ten or twenty years ago. When you have 24 kids plus ONE teacher, that one teacher is over used. Kids do not all come to school the same way. Six kid is coming to school hungry and sleepy. One kid is being molested/neglected/abused. Two kid has BOTH parents involved and part of the PTA, checks homework every night, stays in contact, and wants to know how to help and support. One kid is one grade level behind. Five kids are two grade levels behind. Ten are three grade levels behind. Four kid you wonder what have they being the entire time they have been in school because every day is ground zero where nothing sticks, so now you gotta fill out paperwork and document everything to get some help (this process takes 30-90 days to just get the ball rolling, the actual plan/diagnosis will not happen for another 30-90 days before you know it, it is spring and school is coming to a close). One kid will be on grade level and is excited to come to school and learn. One kid will have a behavior problem and terrorize the class and school everyday they show up. 15 will not speak English as their native language. 4 will have an IEP. 5 will have a 504 plan. Now the curriculum that we are to teach does not make any room for these kids. The curriculum is only for the kids that are on grade level and/or have parental/family support at home. There is no way to give all these children the individualized attention they need, require, and demand. That kid who demands the attention rather through positive means or negative gets the attention. We cannot be every where at ONE time in the overcrowded classroom.
Problem 2: lack of resources
Any successful classroom has resources from materials to people. Kids cannot learn in a prison type environment but guess how many classroom look like that before teacher spruce it up to look warm and inviting. These resources cost money. So every year teachers are shelling out THOUSANDS of dollars out of their own pocket to create that warm and inviting classroom. Check out #clearthelist #clearthelist2022 #clearthelists #clearthelists2022 on twitter and you will see THOUSANDS of teachers asking for help and support to fund their classrooms.
Resources also means school supplies, listen parents that list is because we know not every child is going to come to school with school supplies and yes we use expo markers in small groups, we use post-it notes while reading along with highlighters. Just get the supplies please. We as teachers need supplies too. If lessons are not engaging your child is not learning.
Resources also means other teachers. ESOL, SPED, Guidance Counselors, Paraeducators, Building Service, Cafeteria Workers, Bus Drivers, Parent Liaison, Therapists (speech, OT, PT, psychologist) Special Teachers (PE, Art, Music) Media Specialist, Intervention Teachers we need every single adult in that building and then some more extras like our substitute teachers. Budget cuts reduce our support staff every single year. Most of our support staff are not just at one school sometimes they are at two or three schools sometimes the whole cluster of schools which can be up to 6 or 7.
Problem 3: Lack of admin support
Now I am clearly aware of times when administration has their hands tied by the district and the policies the district has in place. However I have worked with admin that does what needs to be to retain their teachers and will go to bat for their staff.
When that behavior child is raining terror and we call for help, just know we have tried everything in our power and now we need reinforcements. What we get however is the child right back in our classroom within five minutes of sending them to you.
Let me give you an example: Student A is upset because they are being asked to complete work. Student A begins yelling and screaming “I hate school, you can’t make me do this” Okay teacher calmly talks to student “Please stop yelling, you are right, I can’t make you do this. Do you need help? Let’s do two problems together and then you can take a break for 5 minutes. We will set a timer” Student” F*&% you, you stupid b*&^%” Then proceeds to throw things.
Now the teacher has some choices to make because now student A has become a danger to others and the situation is escalating. Teacher evacuates the classroom to keep the other students safe however Student A is still in the class throwing things and screaming. Admin is called they remove the student. The classroom is a mess. Teacher calls students for a class meeting to do a check-in to answer questions, calm students down, ensure them they are okay and safe now. Everyone begins to clean up a mess they did not make and enters Student A with a smile and candy.
What the entire f*&^. Admin tells the student “now remember what we talked about, you promised you make better choices” Admin walks away. Teacher is dumbfounded and students are now upset “how come they get candy?” Teacher has no answers. Student A does not make better choices repeat what just happened. Now a teacher can only take so much of this before is wears on the nerves, physical and mental health. Kids no longer feel safe. Teacher no longer feels safe. Student A gets to do whatever they want and receive candy for their behavior. What message have we just sent? This is first grade not middle or high school. FIRST GRADE and that was the tame version of that story.
Problem 4: District Policies
I won’t stay here long because this one is exhausting and irritating. Just know that people in charge do not always have education degrees, have not always taught in the classroom and are so far removed from current present day issues they should not be in charge.
Problem 5: Salary
To tell a teacher that they knew what they were signing up for is an insult. To say teachers are in it for the outcome and not the income is an insult. Teachers should NOT have to work two jobs just to make ends meet. I am not talking about living the lifestyle of the rich and famous or even living outside of our means. BASIC EVERYDAY LIVING IS EXPENSIVE!!! Our salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living. When we have to beg for an increase and then slapped with a 1% increase that is an insult. Remember we are required to get college credits to maintain our certification. We are asking for a livable wage. Our salary should not be voted on every year by people who are not in our shoes and have no clue. First year teachers with one degree should be making at bare minimum 70k a year and a 5k yearly increase. First year with a masters should be making at bare minimum 80k a year and a 7k yearly increase. Student loans cost money to repay. Student loan forgiveness is not granted to everyone. Not every teacher is married.
PLOT TWIST: you can check your local school district’s salary schedule to see how much they are paying teachers, administrator, etc. All of this information is public. Do not focus on the average that is inaccurate information.
We are required to get a bachelors degree plus take state exams. Most of us go on to get a graduate degree to increase our salary. We take college courses to maintain our certificate, so we end up with college credits but without that degree it is just additional credits. Our salary does not match cost of living nor out student loan debt. Add in children and we get two and three jobs JUST TO SURVIVE! We should not have to ask for supplies and resources for our classrooms.
Problem 6: outdated curriculums
This is minor major problem. At this point just stop purchasing curriculums and trust teachers to do our jobs without following a boxed curriculum created by a non-educator. There is no room for individualized and differentiated instruction to the point we are constantly supplementing. Listen Teacherspayteachers should not exist but it does because of the ridiculousness of these curriculums. In addition they end of purchasing a new curriculum and we are back at ground zero learning a new curriculum and trying to make it work for our students.
Problem 7: no work-life balance
Somewhere people expect teachers to work past their contracted hours and say nothing. Teaching is a 12 month job but we only get paid for 10. PLOT TWIST: not every teacher gets paid through the summer. So now we are working over the summer on top attending PDs. There are countless amount of teachers who try to create a work-life balance and not take work home and not stay past their contracted hours but struggle because we want to do what is best for our students. We often neglect ourselves. The amount of teachers who have high blood pressure and UTIs are astronomical. Yes we get a lunch break but often times we are working through our lunch breaks unpaid to return phone calls, answer emails, make copies, lesson plan, deal with students, grade papers, update grade books, update documentations, attend meetings…our breaks are never truly free unless we hid buy turning off our lights and locking our doors or sit in our cars. Elementary teachers are with their students all day. Secondary teachers are with students all day. Some have lunch and recess duties. Some have arrival and dismissal duties. Please stop telling us to use our time wisely when we don’t have time.
Problem 8: the abuse
I am not going to tip-toe around it and call it anything but abuse. From the verbal abuse to the physical abuse. At some point you say enough is enough. Our students abuse us and most are protected by IEPs and 504s so we are told to suck it up and deal with it or document it so that their plans can be adjusted (THIS TAKES 6 to 8 WEEKS!!!) Our students are cursing at us and saying things that should not be coming out of a child’s mouth. The utter disrespect has increased to the point it feels like we are in a war zone. Parents are physically and verbally abusing us. Politicians are verbally and physically abusing us. Administrators, district office, school board…everyone! Everything is blamed on teachers and I promise we are the most powerless. We are told what to teach and when to teach it. Now we are being told how to teach. Our salary is voted is on, we have little to no opportunity to negotiate our salaries. We are told what we need to keep our certificate. We are told how many students are in our class. We are told what to do from the time we sign that contract to the time we resign/retire. Teachers are NOT the ones you need to be mad at. We have been conditioned to take the abuse because we love our kids. We have been conditioned not strike and stand up for ourselves because we are in it for the kids. We are in for the outcome not the income. Teachers have a heart of gold. Teaching is a calling.
NOW because the shortage has gotten out of control ANYONE with a high school diploma can go into a classroom and be a ‘teacher’. Okay good luck with that. There are going to be more issues on hand with this move.
Problem 9: lack of accountability
Okay listen teachers are not robots nor are the students. When students and parents are allowed to abuse teachers there is no respect. NO respect no control. NO respect no control = chaos. School and classrooms have become chaos. Education has become a circus. Everyone is pointing fingers. Everyone is arguing and fighting over something from CRT to COVID. The children are running a muck and no one is helping teachers get them under control. They are seeing violence outside of school at home in the community on social media and they bring it to school in the classrooms. Teachers are called to educate. Teachers are now called to defend and put their lives on the line for their students. So one more thing added to overflowing plates.
If America truly wants to fix/solve the problem, they have to get to the heart of the matter. Talk with teachers. We will tell you what the issues are. We will tell you what we need and want. It is not complicated. These issues did not happen overnight and they will not be resolved overnight. However if you want quality education, you must treat education like it matters. You must treat it with quality. It starts with the teachers, those are educating students.