A guest column by Emilie McKiernan Blanton
Educators are fleeing the profession and the persistent micromanaging of our jobs is making an already unsustainable situation worse. I am scared about how few educators will be left for next school year.
In December, I was given the opportunity to testify in Frankfort about educators as essential workers. With the filing of multiple problematic bills targeting educators, I decided share the entirety of my testimony below.
While teaching online was a unique challenge, it was the return to the classroom that became a far more difficult task. Students returned to us traumatized and needing more support than ever before. It must be noted that our students who are already marginalized due to their race, ethnicity, religion, and identity suffered additional trauma. Students who already needed extra support came back needing more. Unfortunately, the number of educators returning was not enough.
We have seen the number of those pursuing education as a career decline for decades resulting in a teacher shortage that has reached a critical point. We were already having difficulty retaining teachers before the pandemic. Now, it’s catastrophic. We already had buildings with vacancies and sub shortages before 2020. This year, it’s worse. I have watched colleagues leave their keys on the desk and say “I can’t do this anymore.” I have had more of my peers ask me “Just how much is it to buy out my remaining years?”
We are covering for vacancies and shortages during our planning periods, the only time we have during the day to grade, plan, and contact our students’ family members. Our capacity to even do our job to the best of our ability is hindered by the teacher shortage. Teachers are working longer hours with fewer breaks and we are getting to a point where we are making ourselves ill, physically and mentally, attempting to keep up.
While some will remark on the behavior of students, it is important to understand that the behavior is a symptom of both their own trauma and of the shortage. To lose a teacher in the middle of the school year, in some cases in the middle of a random week, is traumatic.
It is also a coverage issue. Children need structure and routine. That is difficult to maintain as educators leave the classroom and buildings are strained with shortages that cause additional stress on the remaining faculty and staff. Our students in families which are identified as low income, as well as students from marginalized groups such as our students of color, already attend schools where recruitment and retention is a problem. This adds to their additional trauma.
Children will continue to act on their trauma which will continue to drain the remaining staff. We have educators who have been badly injured breaking up fights and needing to take off work to deal with these ongoing issues. Not long ago, I heard an altercation begin in the hallway. As I broke up the fight with the help of other staff, I was slammed repeatedly into a wall. Once we separated the students, I returned to finish the lesson with my fifth period because that’s what teachers are doing right now.
Just last week, one of our members sent us an email letting us know that she would be one of the countless educators leaving the profession. This is an educator with years of experience who has decided to leave the profession. Those of us who can leave, will.
I would be failing my colleagues if I did not mention the political attacks on educator benefits and protections that make our profession even less desirable. What was once a job with security is now a gamble as people criticize what we do or do not teach. We are blamed, even with our best efforts, when not all of our students succeed, despite the fact that we are often the biggest support children and families have. Schools are essential, but we need help supporting our kids beyond what happens inside of a school building.
We need more educators and we need to keep the ones that we have. It’s categorically important that we prioritize our children, the future of our Commonwealth, by investing in educators to retain them and recruit more. Our kids need and deserve it.
There is going to be a mass exodus of teachers. And frankly, it’s already started.
Emilie is a 14 year educator in Jefferson County Public Schools, and a member of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.
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