Friday, December 18, 2020

A Profession in Crisis

The pandemic notwithstanding, if 25 percent of our nation's doctors were planning to quit the profession, it would constitute a national crisis. If my neighbor Amazon got word that one in four of their professional employees were going to walk away, it would be a disaster. Indeed, if any profession or employer had that much of their workforce ready to walk away, not for "better jobs," but because their current job was too dangerous, stressful, or demoralizing, it would be time to call in the cavalry. 

According to a recent poll of public school K-12 teachers, a full 27 percent say they are considering leaving the profession due to the the pandemic. This is on top of pre-pandemic polling that found that half of all teachers were already considering a job change because of low pay, bad working conditions, lack of respect, and an ongoing degradation of learning conditions for students. This is not a new crisis, it's an old one on steroids.

In our state, there are, as far as I know, exactly zero plans to address this issue. The obvious answer of increasing pay, bolstering psychological and mental health support, and providing more autonomy for educators to teach the way their students learn, is apparently not being seriously considered. Nope, as far as policymakers are concerned, it seems that the only options on the table are to keep schools open with all the extra danger, work, and stress or to continue with the mind-numbing drudge of attempting to educate through a computer screen for hours a day. The testing must go on. The out-of-the-box, top-down curriculum must still be adhered to. The children must not be allowed to "fall behind." Heck, yesterday there was a blizzard in New York City, closing the schools, but no "snow holiday" for the kids and their teachers, as remote learning continues unabated.

Oh sure, there are a lot of people patting teachers on the back right now, and they deserve it, but at best that will serve to keep them hanging on for a few more days. The problems in our profession are chronic and they were getting worse even before the coronavirus added "and you might die" to the list.

Our local school district is warning parents that the schools won't likely fully re-open, even with the good news of a vaccine, until at least next fall. In other words, we are only about halfway through this. If they didn't understand it before, those in power now know that there is no getting back to "normal" without our schools, but our schools are nothing without teachers. If we don't focus like a laser on teacher retention, and that's going to mean money, support, and, perhaps the most difficult of all, the willingness to allow teachers the autonomy to do the right thing by the children in their care, there won't be any schools to get back to. 

Of course, teachers are already saying this, loud and clear. We have been saying it for a generation as the crisis worsened. Obviously, we can't do it alone. What we need is for parents to join us as advocates for their children and for employers to join us as advocates for their employees. Together, I believe we can force change for the better. Education historian, author, and activist Diane Ravitch reminds us that "teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions." If those conditions are so bad that most are looking for a way out, just think what that is doing to our children who have no choice. 

We're all tired of it. We all want good news stories. I hate to be gloom and doom, but we also have to face the truth. This is something we created together, it won't go away at the end of the pandemic, and the only way to solve it is to work together. Parents, please, listen to what teachers are saying. Employers, please listen as well. Our unified voice is the only way we're going to get policymakers to listen. We need each other and our children need us all.

Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in Australia and New Zealand as well as the US, Canada, the UK, Iceland, and Europe. And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well. 

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