Opinion: America’s teachers are disillusioned and dissatisfied

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp laughs with state Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller and others as he signs education bills on Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Forsyth County.  (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp laughs with state Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller and others as he signs education bills on Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Forsyth County. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

Teachers express a growing discontent with job pressures and lack of respect

Of all the ugliness exposed by the pandemic, the most troubling scenes to me were parents who rolled their eyes or booed teachers pleading for masks to protect themselves. Why, I wondered, would anybody stay in teaching?

Increasingly, more teachers are asking themselves that question.

A Rand report examined the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in resignations. It detailed the results of a survey of teachers who fled public schools after March 2020 and before their scheduled retirement. Researchers found that almost half of those teachers left because of the pandemic.

Stress was the most common reason for teachers leaving their jobs early — almost twice as common as insufficient pay. “At least for some teachers, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have exacerbated what were high stress levels pre-pandemic by forcing teachers to, among other things, work more hours and navigate an unfamiliar remote environment, often with frequent technical problems,” the report states.

The assumption has been that educators are being lured away by higher-paying jobs. But Rand researchers said the majority of teachers who left took jobs with either less or about equal pay. Three in 10 went on to work at a job with no health insurance or retirement benefits.

The Merrimack College Teacher Survey, a representative poll of more than 1,300 teachers conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in January and February, confirms a profession in free fall.

Only 12% of K-12 teachers report they are “very satisfied” with their jobs, down from 39% a decade ago. The survey shows salary satisfaction rates are lowest in the South and Midwest, with just 21% of teachers agreeing the pay is fair for the work they do.

Most worrisome is the drop in teachers who believe their profession is respected — a critical factor in job satisfaction. In 2011, 77% of teachers felt their communities treated them as professionals. Now, only 46% of teachers believe that, and more than half now say they wouldn’t advise their younger self to pursue a career in teaching.

“After persevering through the hardest school years in recent memory, our educators are exhausted and feeling less and less optimistic about their futures,” said Becky Pringle, president of the 3-million-member National Education Association, and a Pennsylvania science teacher.

Gov. Brian Kemp and the General Assembly attempted to mitigate teacher angst with $2,000 pay raises this year. But a new NEA analysis of teacher pay released shows Georgia lags the national average.

Last year, the average salary for American public school teachers was $65,293, an increase of 1.8% over 2019-2020. Georgia’s 117,204 public school teachers fell in the middle range, with an average salary of $60,553. Georgia also landed below the national average in what starting teachers earn — $38,692 compared to the $41,770. Teachers earned the most in New York, $90,222, and the least in Mississippi, $46,862.

The goodwill that lawmakers hoped to engender through raises was undone by culture war bills castigating schools and teachers as tools of liberal indoctrination.

On Thursday, Kemp signed legislation that limits how educators teach students about race and “divisive concepts,” eases the removal of books or coursework deemed inappropriate and creates an oversight committee that could block transgender students from playing on sports teams that don’t match the gender on their birth certificate.

In a recent visit to Atlanta, Pringle said such legislation attempts “to make people believe that parents are against teachers, and school boards are against everybody.” At suburban Atlanta school board meetings, speakers, including older people with no children in school, lined up to allege anti-American and anti-white classroom instruction.

“When you stoke fear and division, you can motivate 70-year-olds to drive through gridlock traffic to a school board if it’s messaged in a way that taps into some of their basic fears about themselves, their families and their values,” said Pringle.

Pringle believes public schools will survive the statehouse demagoguery. She also said the exodus of veteran educators and declining enrollment in teacher prep programs can be slowed.

“It begins with respect for them as educational professionals so they don’t have everyone who ever went to school making laws about teaching and learning,” she said. “They deserve a professional salary. And respect in their spaces where they are not being held responsible for every single societal ill that shows up at their classroom door.”

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