National Teacher Burnout
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Jonathan L. Wharton
JONATHAN L. WHARTON

Barth Keck’s recent piece, “The Teacher Shortage Is Very Real and Very Troubling,” is a revealing account of what our educators face amidst a pandemic, divisive politics, and teacher retirements. Recruiting talented teachers is critical, but capturing their early interest in the profession is key as well.

Keck highlights a Connecticut Education Association survey that discovers nearly three-quarters of our state’s teachers are planning to leave or retire early. And some 98% are facing stress and burnout. Nearby states face similar challenges as well as staffing shortages. Additional studies offer that teacher job satisfaction is the lowest in generations. What’s worse, high school seniors and college freshmen have the lowest interest in teaching at nearly 50%. 

Teaching is not for everyone as it requires talent, patience, and intent. Public school elementary and secondary teaching is a whole other level of know-how. I revere Keck and his colleagues as they face so much pressure, especially in this difficult era.

I teach at a university. Teaching high school is a different planet. While I taught at a Jersey City Catholic high school for a couple of years, disciplining students was time-consuming and not my forte. I also quickly realized parents’ and administrators’ demands were overwhelming.

But that teaching experience at the high school level didn’t deter me from the profession. In fact, I was resolute in my desire to teach at a nearby community college and private college. I had to find an appropriate career lane that suited me. 

Similar to Keck, I discovered the classroom after being in public policy for several years. I should have recognized my mentoring and learning interests earlier on, as I was a teenage “manny,” babysitting neighborhood kids. And I cherished being a camp counselor for several summers. Interestingly, both sides of my family have been educators for generations as W.E.B. DuBois reminded countless Black Americans that being a teacher of teachers was a noble calling.

Still, I squandered my familial calling and overlooked my initial educational interests. I assumed anyone could mentor and teach. This is hardly the case as it takes someone with a special resolve to teach, especially if they already have an interest in high school or college. 

Being at Southern Connecticut State University, I respect that teaching has been its mission since it was founded as New Haven State Teachers College. So many students come here wanting to be educators – as well as wanting to stay in Connecticut.

Even during the pandemic with online teaching, I came across students ready for the classroom. Many of these future teachers are student-athletes, in the honors college or accelerated graduate program (and some students are all of the above). They will often press my 22-year educator experience about subject matters and career choices.  

This year, I have remained in touch with several students entering the profession. One student has been excitedly teaching in West Haven and is about to finish his master’s degree; another is already teaching high school, is almost done with his master’s degree, and is pursuing a research initiative; and an undergrad taught during the summer but is reconsidering the classroom and venturing into curriculum planning. 

Through these and so many future educators, I try to motivate them to remain interested in education. These are challenging times to be in the classroom. Connecticut and its school districts must find pathways to encourage and incentivize our future teachers. This can include innovative policy approaches like student loan forgiveness, graduate education incentives, and vocational housing. As Beck offered, we need supportive initiatives in light of ongoing teacher shortages and burnout.

Jonathan L. Wharton

Jonathan L. Wharton

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

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