Do you ever wonder?
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Do you ever wonder why teachers leave? The national teacher shortage is becoming more of a crisis by the day, but nothing is changing. Educators on social media constantly produce content revealing the intricacies of a broken system at work. They firmly demand reform and implore, “How many more teachers need to leave for society to take notice?” However, outside of education, not many people seem to care about the number of empty classrooms or students no longer receiving a high-quality education. There is no one reason I can name that summarizes all of the systemic inequities, mistreatment and failures forcing teachers out. Teaching is a job –one that requires dedication, patience, and some sacrifice– but a job nonetheless.
As a society and community, we must consider why teachers are leaving. We must wonder why our children are missing out on their education and why their needs are not met. We must question the status quo; we must consider the consequences of our continued inactions, bystanding and blissful ignorance of a nationwide crisis. And we must be loud and demand change.
So, do you ever wonder why teachers feel threatened, afraid, or unsafe at school? Because of the 180 school shootings over the past ten years. Sandy Hook. Uvalde. Columbine. Parkland. Santa Fe. A teacher shot by her six-year-old student. The beginning-of-the-year training on how to break a classroom window, flee the school, hide out from danger, and board the door if a shooter enters the school. The “don’t make a sound, lay low, stay out of sight,” as they slide a bookcase into place in shooter drills. Funding goes to this triggering training instead of gun control and policy to keep kids safe. The right to safety and community is taken away in a moment.
Do you ever question the loss of teachers’ control over curriculum, materials, and classrooms? Our expertise is dismissed and stripped away from preschool to high school classrooms. Instead, the control in the hands of arrogant politicians and lawmakers whose personal religious beliefs, hate, discomfort, arrogance, political self-interest and egocentrism dictate what teachers teach in their classrooms. We no longer fulfill our ethical responsibility to teach the whole, nuanced truth. We struggle to create a welcoming, safe space for all students, where they are seen, heard, loved, respected and reflected. We lose our voice and ability to lead students in using theirs.
Do you ever consider teachers' salary or working conditions? Nationwide, educators earned 23.5 percent less than comparable college graduates in 2021. And the teacher pay gap continues to increase in the face of inflation. In constant dollars teachers are bringing home $2,179 less than they did ten years ago. The money teachers invest in a college education, license, master's degree, classroom supplies and other essential out-of-pocket costs are not reimbursed in their take-home pay. The reality is that thousands of teachers fight to make ends meet by working outside jobs, without even mentioning the number of hours educators put in outside their contracts. When the demands are so high and the rewards are so low, the blame is on the system which created such unsupportive and, sometimes, toxic working conditions.
The education system is broken. It is based on competition and high achievement in place of collaboration, creativity, and ingenuity. It views children as numbers whose purpose is to produce the same results. However, education is inherently founded on the growth and support of human beings. So how many more teachers must leave before a change is demanded? As educators, we will not stand aside as our rights and professionalism are dismissed. We still act as agents of change with our voices and classrooms. But we cannot stand alone.
So, stand with us. Demand change and be loud. Use your power and voice to make the people in power pay attention. Write “enough is enough” to your legislators; urge them to push gun control bills and background checks and oppose those aiming to control how and what we teach. For a system to be reformed, all who care about our children and their quality education must step up.
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Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.