Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue: Teachers are not pinatas
Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue is a retired teacher in Texas. Writing for the Fort Worth Weekly, he examines the causes of the many empty teaching positions in Texas.
For the past few years, I’ve watched in amazement as practically a new high school was erected behind the old one. Inside those new buildings, students and teachers will be making memories. And while I wax nostalgic for my old digs, those portable eyesores that are no more, I don’t begrudge the teachers getting to work in brand-new classrooms. Today’s teachers more than deserve that because the past few years have been pure hell.
First of all, because teaching is hard, period. Not everyone can do it. I’ve seen many first-year teachers bail after a few weeks or even days. But also, it’s been made even harder by the constant pressure to raise state-mandated test scores. Back in 2013, the last year I taught, for the first time I saw teachers breaking down crying during English department meetings because of the relentless pressure to up student test scores.
These tests may have a place, but currently their outsized role is greatly diminishing the pleasure of teaching and the joy of learning. Not to mention putting a target on the back of public schools, so as to make it easier to defund them and help charter and private schools thrive.
Then COVID came along. Teachers had to learn on the job how to do instruction online with all sorts of daunting challenges — students who didn’t have a parent at home to monitor them or good WiFi connections.
Then it was, well, COVID again. When schools went back into session, some parents objected to masks.
In those early days, there was an honest debate to be had about requiring masks in schools, but that’s not what happened. All over the country, we had parents getting fed disinformation about masks and “freedom” by the usual suspects in the right-wing outrage machine. It made for some ugly confrontations where administrators and teachers were threatened.
Mask disinformation was just the beginning.
And this just in: Gov. Greg Abbott, without a hint of irony, has announced a task force to investigate Texas’ teacher shortage. I won’t mince words here. Good teachers are leaving because their jobs have been made a living hell by right-wing crazies. If Abbott really wants to improve teachers’ lives, stop using public education as a beachhead in the culture wars. Treat educators with respect and stop the constantly inflamed and hate-filled right wing from harassing them. And give them a bump in pay, too. Believe me, they’ve more than earned it.