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.
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.