April 6, 2023

Barth Keck: Better Pay Would Help, But the Issues Facing Teachers Go Much Deeper

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Longtime educator Barth Keck points out that while pay is one of the issues keeping teaching positions unfilled, there’s more to it than that.

One of my columns noted how many teachers are experiencing “moral injury,” a term Psychology Today defines as “the social, psychological, and spiritual harm that arises from a betrayal of one’s core values, such as justice, fairness, and loyalty.”

For me, the psychological and spiritual hurt has never been greater.

I could blame the pandemic that arrived in 2020 for much of the despair, and I could cite the so-called “learning loss” that students experienced as a result. But a “teacher’s malaise” was already taking shape pre-pandemic; Covid-19 simply exacerbated it.

The seed of teachers’ current moral injury was perhaps planted at Columbine High School 24 years ago this month when two teenage students killed 13 people and wounded 20 others in a shooting spree. Thus began the now routine lockdown drills that prepare for the unthinkable recurrence of Columbine. Regrettably, “another Columbine” has happened nearly 400 times since that horrific day in Littleton, Colorado.

All I need mention are “Stoneman Douglas,” “Uvalde,” and “Sandy Hook” – of course – for people to immediately recognize the topic. Just last week, a lone individual walked into a Nashville elementary school and shot six people, killing three students and wounding three adults. The response from pols and policymakers was so predictable as to be boring: “Thoughts and prayers.”

But armed gunmen aren’t the only threat that teachers are stressed by.

As if defending the very lives of our students is not challenging enough, teachers have become targets of another aggressor in these partisan times: the public-school critic. Typically working under the banner of “parents’ rights” – another issue I’ve addressed – these naysayers accuse teachers of “indoctrinating our children” with “woke ideologies” such as Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ rights, going so far as to call teachers “groomers.”

Consider the recent news of a Florida principal who was forced to resign after an art teacher showed 6th graders a photograph of Michelangelo’s 16th-century sculpture of David. It didn’t matter that the curriculum of the Tallahassee Classical School focused on “classical education.” (Duh.) The classical statue was of a naked man – gasp! – so, three parents complained. The principal was gone.

The effects are felt over time:

The long-term effect of this excessive surveillance of teachers is the loss of respect and autonomy. I’ve always found it extremely rewarding to bring my own creativity to lessons. One of the best feelings for teachers is concluding a lesson in which the students were enthusiastic and engaged, where the kids “got it.” Such lessons are planned within the structure of a clear curriculum, of course, but the point is that a teacher can use personal knowledge and experience to fashion them. The current state of public education, however, has made those moments less frequent.

There’s plenty more. Read the full op-ed here. 

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