May 22, 2022

Sarah Jaffe: How the attack on teachers threatens the future of public schools

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At Portside, Sarah Jaffe looks at the steady loss of teachers, and what that means for public education as a whole.

Two years ago, Nicole McCormick was so passionate about teaching that she ran for vice president of the West Virginia Education Association. A music teacher for 11 years, McCormick “always had high expectations of what a music teacher should do,” and on top of lesson planning and caring for her family, she put in extra hours after school to make her union stronger, too.

But now she has left the classroom and is unsure if she will ever return. The increasing workload, the uncertainty and pressure of the pandemic, the combined stress of parenting her own four children, looking after her ill mother, worrying about the health and safety of her students, and the low pay and constant disrespect drove her out.

“Part of teaching is putting on a show,” McCormick said. “Because we all know that these children are living with trauma. I couldn’t put on a show anymore. Because if I did, if I successfully put on that show during the day, by the time I got home, there was nothing left.”

She is not alone. Many teachers around the country are reaching a breaking point. They have been demonized in the press and blamed for school closures, and the ways COVID-19 has dramatically changed public education have piled heavily on top of attacks and shortages educators and public schools have been enduring for years. No longer able to give their best to their students, many teachers are leaving the field and the impact on the future of public education could be catastrophic.

There are now 567,000 fewer educators in public schools than at the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the ratio of hires to job openings has reached new lows, with 0.57 hires for every open job. A poll released in February by the National Education Association also found that 55 percent of polled educators plan to leave the field earlier than they originally thought because of the pandemic, and 80 percent of union members reported that “unfilled job openings have led to more work obligations for the educators who remain.”

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