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Building something that people can believe in has the power to transform a barren landscape into a place of opportunity and access. The reverse is also true. Education is being dismantled and erased by an army of legislators who appear to value destruction over innovation.
Over the last few weeks, two Midwestern states, Iowa and Indiana, have been doing their utmost to unleash a perfect storm of indignity. The results of these attacks on curriculum and instruction will be disastrous. Highly qualified teachers and administrators will find other professions that not only pay better, but also publicly value their skill sets and do not subject them to constant abasement.
In Iowa, a bill under discussion would provide funding to place cameras in classrooms so that parents can view livestreams of their children and keep teachers under constant surveillance. In a similar vein, Indiana recently passed House Bill 1134, which requires teachers to submit their lesson plans and curriculum materials in advance of instruction so that parents can preemptively opt their children out of any undesired lessons, as though school is an a la carte menu and their children can bypass the broccoli. The prospect of being monitored like criminals and questioned about every educational decision they make will likely be the final straw for many educators waffling about leaving the profession.
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In the first month of 2022 alone, schools have been plagued by senseless book censorship, paranoid and inaccurate accusations about the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and untenable staff shortages due to the peak of Omicron. Since March 2020, teachers have been citing unmanageable expectations and unsafe working conditions. Those outside the profession have met teachers’ cries for help with blame instead of compassion.
For many teachers, rather than continue to try to explain the complexities of their profession, it has become easier just to leave. A mass educator exodus and shortage will not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. A pre-pandemic study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) indicated that teacher shortages were already becoming dire. At that time, researchers at EPI predicted that by the year 2025, the shortage could reach up to 200,000. That number was based on a pre-Covid reality, one that did not account for the recent dire working conditions in schools.
Now, both the players and the game are changing around us. Early in the pandemic, people might have assumed that educators would leave for reasons mainly related to public health. Now it has become abundantly clear that teachers are resigning because their perceived value, always minimized, has reached unacceptable depths.
Education is being dismantled and erased by an army of legislators who appear to value destruction over innovation.
The results of the Indiana and Iowa legislators’ clear lack of faith in educators will almost certainly be dire for the very people they claim to wish to protect: the children.
Qualified teachers will disappear, and in their place instruction will be conducted either by less experienced teachers or by substitutes. Students will suffer, and not just academically; the revolving door of adults circulating through classrooms will increase the social and emotional challenges for students who need stable teachers to rely on.
Qualified and experienced teachers support students in many ways, from maximizing their learning growth to ensuring they are engaged in their school communities. All of that will be in peril, and those who have pushed educators to the brink will see the consequences unfold without a way to repair the damage.
In the baseball movie classic “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks’ character chastises his star player for quitting when the game gets too challenging. “It’s supposed to be hard,” he says. “The hard is what makes it great.” Teachers have never minded doing a hard job; but now that we are fighting a losing battle against those who actively seek to destroy the work we care so passionately about, the rewards of teaching are far less discernible.
Educators are tired of seeing our efforts erased like a blackboard.
Unless lawmakers and politicians stop attacking the very people who so staunchly advocate for children, the consequences are foreseeable: The end of educators.
Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist and the author of the forthcoming “Teach More, Hover Less.”
This story about the teacher shortage crisis was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.
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Dear Editor, I am a veteran teacher and will retire this June, your article about teachers leaving the profession is 100% right on the money. I love teaching and love kids and have been at this for 40 years, and I am leaving this year. Why? Exactly for the reasons your article stated–the over-reach of District and Administration. The micro-managing of teachers. I would not tell Tom Brady how to play football, and yet an endless cycle of administrators, parents, students and university professors have no problem telling me how and what to teach. Then telling me that the misbehavior and cell phone addiction so prevalent in my classroom is due to my lack of “engaging lessons” and if I followed their newest magic-bullet instructions all my kids would behave and be engaged. The lack of respect for veteran teachers and what we do, and ALL we do, is stunning. I would teach forever if I were left alone to use my forty years of experience to feed young minds, encourage creativity, share enthusiasm and to create a place where young people feel free to explore the topics and ideas and issues that are relevant to them. The mania for assessing and evaluating students and gathering data from them, leads to high-pressure instruction of curriculum and standards that those of us in the trenches can see are often irrelevant, and then we are micro-managed to make sure we are mixing up the go-to-college high GPA Kool-aid and passing it out. I propose ALL ADMINISTRATORS at every level teach a class of our most at-promise kids from start to finish at least once every three years. A does of reality is what is needed in education. Well-paid people in quiet offices who taught Driver’s Ed in the days before Covid and cell phones have to grasp of what real teachers face. Teachers are heroes. The ones that give 110% anyway. I also propose that universities find another manner of evaluating students for entrance rather than grades. The pressure from colleges for the high GPA feeds into education becoming an ATM grade machine. A data mad system that must churn out higher and higher grades, rather than focus on molding kind and compassionate beings who can think for themselves and be creative as well.
Yours, Paul Forster, Veteran Teacher, Santa Barbara High School
This is so true. As the mother of a teacher I now understand at a level I never have. She loves teaching high school in a low economic area. She is so amazing at relating to her kids and helping them find themselves through art. She had her first senior who wrote her a letter at graduation thanking my daughter for helping her find herself and showing her that she is an award winning artist. No one at the high school was entering student art in competition. This student won everything they entered. She has created an outstanding syllabus for all 4 levels of high school and teaches all for levels. There are two other teachers teaching art 1. She started teaching after getting a BFA in Illustration and then getting a teaching certificate, another two years. She is now teaching English in South Korea. She is a victim of exactly what this article is about. The lack of direction during COVID, the constant addition of more to do, no direction for teaching kids at home the teachers were asked to “figure it out”. Eventually those who did figure it out had to change what they did to meet the platform they finally decided on. She got no recognition for the curriculum she developed for 4 levels of art that included history and appreciation. She started an art club and did projects like seasonal graphics on an interior cafeteria glass wall. She still had to work art school events. Art club was not additional pay and did not get her out of extra work at games and theater. This job was a slap in her face. She was exhausted and said she couldn’t quit and let her kids down. She couldn’t leave her kids for a different school, she lives a block from the school. The teaching abroad opportunity seem like an acceptable out. Her kids that loved her have her social media info and will follow her experience. One student said, “your living my dream.” That all being said she does love to travel but at under $38,000 a year she has 2 other part time jobs to make ends meet, and to help her buy classroom supplies. All I can say is I wouldn’t hold a job where I wasn’t appreciated. Fortunately I’m retired and enjoy helping her wherever I can. Like taking her dog to the vet, waiting for the HVAC guy picking up COVID-19 tests, making amazing breakfast breads like banana bread. I hope she comes back next year rested and ready to decide her path. I hope she continues teaching, she is passionate about it and good. I hope she finds a school that will appreciate her and where she doesn’t have to work extra jobs and worry about money.
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