Even before the pandemic, teachers were struggling. In most areas, teacher salaries fall below the cost of living, meaning that many teachers take second jobs in order to pay their bills. Cutbacks in school budgets often leave little for school supplies. So teachers dip into their own pockets to purchase what they need for their classrooms.
Headlines were made recently when a teacher in Ohio quit his teaching job to work at Walmart. As a teacher, he was paid $48,962, but is now earning $55,000 as a Walmart manager.
Of course salary is just one reason why teachers are leaving the profession. The pandemic placed enormous pressure on teachers as they struggled to reach their students on Zoom. This was uncharted territory. Teachers had to adjust their teaching style and work overtime to motivate their students, many of whom suffered from anxiety and depression as they were separated from their friends. Initially, parents hailed teachers as heroes, praising their Herculean efforts to continue to teach under stressful circumstances.
That moment, however, passed quickly. Parents, tired of having their children at home, pushed schools to reopen. Teachers were caught in the middle. While these professionals wanted their pupils back, they were concerned about contracting Covid-19. When vaccines were made available, students began to return, but because the youngest students were not yet eligible to be vaccinated, most schools mandated masks. Politics reared its ugly head and, once again, teachers were caught in the crossfire.
Just when teachers thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. The culture wars broke out. Screaming parents showed up at school board meetings berating the teachers for including “critical race theory” in their classrooms. (Most schools are not teaching anything like CRT, but do teach American history which, of course, should include the Civl War and slavery.) Right wingers, seeing an opportunity to forment even more chaos began to charge teachers with “grooming” students by teaching about sex, particularly anything having to do with the LGBTQ lifestyle. Teachers who were bold enough to include certain books in their curriculum were attacked online and even had protestors outside their homes after their personal information was posted.
Then, of course, we have school shootings. Even though a gun safety law was passed recently, it didn’t go far enough. The types of weapons, AK-47s, for example, that are capable of killing many quickly, are still legal for many 18 year-olds to purchase. Republicans continue to hammer away at stoping shooting by focusing on mental health, although often those who kill do not have any record of being treated for mental illness. Arming teachers is another Republican solution. But the teachers I have spoken to live in fear of being told they have to carry a gun.
All of this is having a chilling effect on the teaching profession. Not only are teachers leaving the classroom, but high school and college students who once thought about teaching are certainly exploring other options. The result is that the best and the brightest will choose another direction. What a loss for young people! We all have teachers we remember and possibly credit them with helping us find our way.
Now schools are recruiting from unusual places to fill that teacher void. Ex-military, who may not have the education or experience, are getting offers. College students who have not finished their teaching training are being pulled in. And while we can admire these people for trying to help, their credentials fall short.
Off course, not all areas of the country are experiencing this brain drain. The sad thing is that schools in the south, where students already score low on testing, are the places being battered by these culture wars. There’s no reasoning with out-of-control parents who show up at school board meetings, having digested the latest misinformation on right-wing websites, to demand curriculum changes. There was a time when parents trusted educated professionals to teach their children. No more. Now they are putting their faith into political hacks who only care about power, not children. What a sad page in our history.
Top photo: Bigstock