Teachers Sailing Away …. to Calmer Waters

Salon Discussion #3

Teacher as Servant Leader

Why do teachers quit the profession? It is safe to say that there are a variety of reasons for teachers choosing to walk or sail away. Prior to 2020, there were nationwide teacher protests with educators marching for safer work conditions following the increase in mass school shootings and for better compensation. Teachers demanding an increase in salary, benefits and assistance in performing their duties had been a consistent gripe for years. Across the US, teachers were often underpaid and overworked as compared to other college educated professionals in this country. There were also questions related to the performance expectations placed on teachers to achieve the academic benchmarks for their students. Each of these broad issues were quite central to making the profession unattractive to individuals hoping to enter and thrive within the field of education. Each one also separately had its own complicated political, historical and socioeconomic dynamic. Yet all of our teachers, aka “servant leaders,” put aside their needs and stopped protesting following the pandemic and national shut down in 2020. They rallied to provide some form of stability to continue the compulsory educational indoctrination system. But whatever happened to the issues and concerns raised by teachers?

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With the past academic years creating new challenges, educators banned together to administer instruction to children using hybrid learning models. Teachers had to adapt according to the latest stats on COVID-19 and teach in unprecedented ways using both synchronous and asynchronous remote virtual instruction. This all occurred within constantly CHANGING public health updates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and school district protocols as the political theater about masking and fake news from the broader community escalated. In the fall of 2021, schools eventually reopened to mostly in-person learning. This was a tremendous accomplishment for those most responsible for making school possible within school districts (teachers, principals and administrators, lunch aides, security guards, bus drivers etc.). Everyone worked tirelessly and collaboratively to reestablish a school environment focussed on educating America’s young minds. As this 2021-2022 school year has progressed, however, the same original concerns raised by our teachers have reared again for US all to bear witness (teacher/class size issues, massive teacher burnout, student behavior and school shootings, over worked and underpaid, not enough support or time for planning, substitute teacher shortages and public health concerns etc.).

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Recent studies suggest that the issues raised by educators were never really addressed with the pandemic front and center – – and understandably so. They only got pushed aside. However, what has been proven once again is that serious issues never really remain completely hidden  – – forever. The negative impact on teachers is evident when you look at just a few recent stats to understand the current mind-set of educators today including:

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  • A 2021 RAND American Teacher Panel (ATP) survey conducted in early January found that nearly one-quarter of teachers indicated a desire to leave their jobs at the end of the school year, compared with an average national turnover rate of 16% pre-pandemic according to NCEA data.
  • According to data in June 2021 from Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace for curriculum content created by teachers for teachers, slightly over a third of teachers (34%) considered changing careers entirely in the past month. Additionally, 11% said they considered taking a leave of absence. Areas teachers listed as needing more support included providing a budget for teaching materials, addressing student behaviors, listening to teachers’ concerns, and providing more planning time. 
  • In November 2021, K-12 Dive found that nearly 48% — of 6,000 teachers surveyed said they had considered changing jobs in the past month, up from 32%. 

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As a result, the potential wave of teacher turnover and future teacher shortages has now reached a slow crescendo. In fact, even mass substitute teachers shortages have been a recent concern making it even more difficult for school districts to operate optimally. It is quite clear that the pandemic only served as a temporary distraction from teachers’ workplace issues. So, what can be done now to identify a national agenda to curtail the current wave of trends. I would surmise that separately from the immediate goal to educate children post pandemic, the Department of Education needs to establish a counsel to look at these issues from a more systemic perspective getting input from stakeholders (educators, politicians, cultural, philanthropic, business, industry any other appropriate representatives from every region in this country) with the goal to identify a more global plan for improvising the educational indoctrination system for not only students but educators. In the past, American presidents, industrialists, philanthropic and business leaders have collaborated on public education policy when creating our modern education system. Their ideas helped to form the current compulsory educational system in this country and its varied positive and negative manifestations.

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In 2022, it is now time to RELOOK at the impact on teachers seriously and with compassionate respect. YES – they are essential workers who are often over worked, unappreciated and under valued yet we should all know by now just how important their role is in society. How do we get the collective society to accept that systemic CHANGE is needed? Well in the past, our national leadership set education policy and financial incentives to make the new initiatives more attractive for states and local governments to implement. If it worked in the past, why not try it now? The other alternative is to continue allowing our teachers to “sail away” to calmer waters. After all, don’t teachers deserve the same level of respect, compensation, career satisfaction, financial mobility, safety, and health and peace of mind that WE all desire? 

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More teachers are sailing away in 2022. 

What can be done to make them want to stay?

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