Fellow educators, let’s start with three simple truths about this moment.
- Being a teacher is hard.
- The pandemic, coupled with other factors like low pay and stressful working conditions, have made being a teacher even harder.
- Even if these challenges are only temporary, a whole lot of really good people are still looking around and deciding they don’t want to do this anymore. And when they’re gone, replacing them won’t be easy.
Thanks to an amazing school culture and a whole lot of luck, I’m grateful to say I’ve been protected from these hard truths more than most. No, I’m talking about teachers who are a heck of a lot better than I am—passionate, high-energy, rock star teachers who are absolutely struggling to recover the joy they once found in their profession. And I’m talking about how one of the nation’s top stories last week was a feature on the companies hot to hire them now that they’re all looking for greener pastures.
Over the past two years, I’ve watched so many inspirational educators gradually cave to apathy. Colleagues who have taught for over a decade are suddenly updating their LinkedIn accounts and resumes. We teachers have always shuffled around the same tired jokes about teacher shortages and job security, but for perhaps the first time, there’s a certain gravity to the situation that can no longer be ignored.
I don’t know that I can say with certainty what an “education crisis” looks like, but this definitely seems like the beginning of one. And if everyone just sits on their hands and insists that things will be better for teachers once this pandemic is over, it’s going to get a whole lot worse.
Just listen to some interviews with current classroom teachers and hear them talk about the state of the profession. Yes, juggling student quarantines and learning loss have added unparalleled challenges to the already complex art of teaching. But the issues go even further than the COVID-19 pandemic alone. Stagnant pay, stress, and new legislative restrictions on what can and can’t be taught in classrooms only create additional complications.
This pandemic will eventually meet its end, but the challenges that are driving so many educators out of the classroom are going to take major structural reforms to fix. When is something finally going to give?
How much longer do we have to listen to politicians flaunting higher salaries for teachers without taking any meaningful action to make it happen? How many more surveys and feedback forms do teachers have to fill out requesting resources they know they’ll never see?
When the pandemic began, we all had these grandiose dreams of reimagining education—ideas for coming out of this crisis with more effective, engaging teaching and learning systems than before. And now, as we approach what some think could be the pandemic’s endgame, all of our wishful thinking seems like yet another dream deferred.
With teachers feeling more demoralized and dehumanized than ever, could another crisis just be beginning?
Garris Stroud is an award-winning educator and writer from Greenville, Kentucky whose advocacy and scholarship have been recognized by USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, Education Post, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and The Lexington Herald-Leader. He served as a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow from 2017-2019 and became chair of the organization’s editorial board in 2018. Stroud is currently a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of the Cumberlands, located in the heart of Kentucky’s Appalachian region. Contact him via email at [email protected]