The calendar says it’s still summer, but educators around Connecticut have long since started preparing their classroom lessons – often with supplies bought with their own money. That rumor about teachers having the entire summer off was started by someone who’s never taught. Teachers have also been trying to make sense of the government’s new pandemic protocols – or the lack thereof. They already know they are walking into what will be another brand-new world.
Every quarter, semester and academic year since COVID has brought different challenges, which include (but are not limited to) concerns about catching the virus, students dealing with mental health issues, teachers dealing with mental health issues, the gaping inequities exposed by online learning, a significant shortage of teachers and staff, and ever-changing protocols.
Of course, protocols change as we learn more about the virus, but last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced they would relax COVID protocols. This is confusing because the latest variant of the virus is the most contagious yet, and Connecticut is laboring under a positivity rate that hovers around 10-11%. Granted, the BA.5 variant appears to be less deadly than earlier versions, but it’s not necessarily a walk in the park, either. Rather than mask mandates and the like, the CDC is suggesting people assess their own risk of infection, and act accordingly. In other words, the CDC wants people to use good judgment, and we have a tattered history with that.
Is it any wonder the country’s teaching ranks are thinning? Teaching has long been one of the most misunderstood professions, and the pandemic exposed just what little support or understanding the culture at large has for the job. You should probably excuse veteran teachers for retiring and leaving the classroom earlier than they’d intended pre-COVID. The resulting short-term savings to schools is considerable, but that leaves an already-stressed teaching staff with fewer colleagues – and, in some cases, larger classes.
Recently – just a few weeks before the bell rings in Connecticut – Hartford announced it had filled just 86% of its teaching positions. How might the district fill those remaining slots? In Florida, where the school year already started with a shortage of 8,000 teachers, the governor suggested a radical approach to staffing the classrooms by recruiting veterans – even if they lack a degree – and giving them a five-year temporary teaching certificate. Five years is a lifetime for a child, and Florida parents should hope this new batch of instructors are natural-born teachers.
It will be interesting to see if Florida’s freshly-minted teachers last the entire five years. An EDWeek report talked to 1,324 teachers around the country and found that just 12% were “very satisfied with their job,” while 4 in 10 are “very or fairly likely” to leave the profession within the next two years. Their dissatisfaction centered, said the report, around the public’s misperception of their job (protesters screaming about teachers at board meetings doesn’t help), and low salaries.
Before you start whining about the awesome (and mythical) power of the teachers’ unions, from that same report, the typical teacher works 54 hours a week. Twenty-five of those hours, according to the report, are spent actually teaching. The rest of the time is spent on duties such as hall monitoring and administrative work.
What’s been lost in a lot of the discussions is that teachers are going through the pandemic, as well, and if support services are too often lacking for students, they are nearly non-existent for most teachers.
I teach at a private university in Connecticut and in a couple of weeks, I will greet a freshman class whose members have spent the last two-and-a-half years in a tumultuous late adolescence that’s been interrupted in ways unique and awful. Researchers will be years studying the social and emotional impact the coronavirus has had on them, but that’s for later. Right now, first-year college students have missed out on important markers for maturation, and more than a few show up ill-prepared or worse for the rigors of college work to colleges not overburdened with appropriate support services for the students or their teachers.
So here we go again, into the breach. You can wish us all luck, but frankly, we’ll need a lot more.