“If you care about schools, thank a teacher. And while you’re at it, please beg them not to quit.” Local journalist Steve Irvin tweeted this a few weeks ago.
The same day Steve Irvin made his post, I sat quietly and listened to a teacher as she revealed the anxiety and stress she had been suffering, but quietly concealing. I absorbed the emotional and unguarded explanation for why she was resigning her teaching position. Stripped down to the essence it came to this: she loves her job but the toll it has taken on her family, and her physical and mental health is no longer sustainable.
I wanted to follow Steve Irvin’s advice and beg her to stay. But, I couldn’t. All I felt was deep empathy and an abiding admiration for the bravery she displayed by laying her reality bare for all to see. The only words that would slip from my mouth were affirmations of genuine understanding and support.
The idea of a teacher resigning during the school year didn’t surprise me. Educators leaving their positions has been widely reported this year. But, that intimate moment in which I witnessed a teacher’s agony in making that decision was so very different from the sterility of reading a stranger’s account.
I thought of the irony in reading Steve Irvin’s quote just hours before I sat and listened to the teacher’s story. I wished that begging teachers not to quit was enough to make them stay. In Arizona, our shortage of teachers willing to continue in the profession gets worse each year. According to a new survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, Arizona schools, “…were able to fill fewer than one out of every five vacancies they had for this school year.” This is the 6th year in a row the organization has reported this trend. You can read the full story here.
But, begging isn’t enough. Our teacher retention crisis is beyond begging. I also feel confident in saying the trendy platitudes aren’t working either. Preaching work/life balance and self care has become meaningless. Those things aren’t possible right now and they’ve warped into words people say so they can feel better about piling more responsibility on educators. It’s their way of proverbially washing their hands of the responsibility to find solutions. “If only teachers would take better care of themselves they wouldn’t be so stressed.” This is nonsense and does nothing to solve the systemic challenges that are pushing educators to find an exit door.
What can be done? What action steps do we need to take so teachers stop resigning? There have been a multitude of legitimate and worthwhile ideas suggested by teachers and education advocates. I’ve written about it several times including last October when I wrote Sending Up Flares: Teachers Are Calling For Help.
As I re-read the blog I had a striking realization. The context is different this year (slightly) but the base level problems are still there. Despite the desperate calls for some relief, nothing has changed (in fact many teachers will tell you this year is worse). It’s beginning to seem like educators are just screaming into the abyss. So, nothing else I can say is new or innovative. It’s all been said before.
I am going to restate it anyway because all the solutions I wrote about last October are still the solutions for which teachers are begging. Here is what teachers desperately need:
I really don’t know what more can be said on this topic. Give teachers time and trust them to use it wisely and effectively.
Forego new programs, initiatives, and the trendy fad du jour. Let teachers collaborate and do what they know has proven effective. That usually works.
Like it or not, the pandemic has fundamentally changed things. Let’s acknowledge that and quit pretending that we can go back to pre-pandemic normal. We’re educators, we know how to monitor and adjust. We need decision makers to do the same.
Educators are begging for change. They’ve specifically identified the problems of practice and offered viable solutions. While it’s tempting to beg teachers to stay as they’re headed for the door, perhaps we should answer their pleas for change before they feel leaving is the only option.