What a year it has been. Last week made one full year since schools across the country moved to remote learning. As of a month ago, there were half a million lives lost in the nation due to COVID-19. There are many countless Facebook arguments about whether students should be in school. Parents are making decisions about whether or not to send their children for in-person learning. College students are ignoring rules about social gatherings.
Fortunately, teachers here in Georgia and across the nation have started getting vaccinations. Since districts required teachers to return to school, many educators have not been happy with having to place their lives on the line for their jobs. Within the half a million lives lost due to COVID, there were sadly some teachers who passed away as well. There has been much anxiety and frustration among teachers as they continue to lose colleagues.
Even before the pandemic, the teacher shortage was an issue. The state of Texas is one of many states that is in desperate need of teachers. Over the past year, there has even been a shortage of substitute teachers in Georgia. Currently, in my work, we understand the impact of the teacher shortage. Our goal is to increase the number of certified teachers in math, science, and special education. These three areas have had shortages year after year. Unfortunately, we are anticipating additional shortages within the coming school year.
To say that this past year has been a mess is an understatement. Teachers having to juggle remote students and in-person students has been an additional cause of stress among other factors. I have personally heard from colleagues who have not signed their letters of intent and are looking for different careers outside of education. More and more teachers are planning to leave the classroom after this school year. Teachers feel that their lives aren’t valued. Bonuses aren’t enough. Saying thank you on social media isn’t enough.
What is the solution? How do we keep teachers in the classroom? How do we let teachers know how valued they are? How do we ensure teachers are invited to the decision-making table? Some suggestions for educational leaders include: (1) sending out an anonymous survey to teachers and ask for their honest opinions; (2) Ask teachers what they think in-person and remote learning should look like; (3) provide teachers the option to work remotely with students who are learning remotely.
I do realize that this can be a controversial opinion, but I believe that providing teachers with choice is a way to boost morale and help teachers trust their leaders. Lastly, local school boards and State Governors need to increase the salaries of every single educator. Districts will have to make some decisions, such as cutting the salaries of the district office personnel, but teachers are worth it. Prioritize increasing the salaries of teachers, not just providing occasional bonuses because of how much they run themselves into the ground.
I am afraid of what the next school year will look like. I’m unsure of how districts can bounce back from such a traumatic year for many. I am hoping that a solution will come soon. Too many amazing teachers are leaving the classroom and that will have a major effect on student learning.