Adam Piore: Are We Failing Our Teachers?
These days, in depth stories about the teacher exodus and a crisis in the profession are not that rare. But this in depth look at the problems ran in Readers Digest, and when word makes it to that corner of the culture, you know something’s up. Adam Piore frames the story by talking to teacher Rosemary Curts, but he gets to the big picture as well.
Teaching was always a tough job. It’s a lot of work, and in too many school districts, the pay stinks. Teachers also need to be proficient in far more than just the subject they’ve been hired to teach. They need to be comfortable talking to students and colleagues, and also adept at negotiating the bureaucracy.
It’s only gotten tougher in recent years as teachers have had to grapple with new fears about school shootings and an increasingly polarized political environment that has placed educators on the front lines of the culture wars. And, of course, COVID-19 only compounded the problems. As a result, about 300,000 of the nation’s roughly 3.1 million teachers left the field between February 2020 and May 2022. About 55% of the remaining educators say they are considering leaving the profession earlier than they had planned, according to a survey by the National Education Association.
The teaching exodus has caused states to take drastic measures. Arizona is recruiting college students to teach, while Florida schools are hiring unlicensed veterans to fill the gaps. In Utah, about 15% of teachers have not completed a teacher preparation program, and many are operating under an emergency credential, which means they passed a background check and have demonstrated “minimal competencies and are willing to do the job,” says Malia Hite, executive coordinator of educator licensing at the Utah State Board of Education. “That means we have teachers in classrooms teaching kids who don’t have all the skills to do the job.” This is not a new situation, she adds, but it’s gotten worse.
At least there are humans leading those classes. In the rural Mississippi town of Rosedale, geometry students learn from a recording because the high school’s lone math teacher is forced to teach multiple classes at once.
At W.H. Adamson, the 1,500-student high school where Curts teaches, the administration began sending out a daily list of all staff vacancies and absences, along with a list of names spelling out who is responsible that day for covering them. Curts, who relies on teaching assistants to help her English as a Second Language (ESL) and special-needs students, says the names of her assistants are on the coverage list most days, forcing her to decide between letting her special-needs and ESL pupils fall behind, or slowing down the class for the remaining 30 students.