Delaware teachers need immediate relief and support. here’s why
Public education is at a crisis point, and we need to have a public discussion about how to save it.
Teachers are burnt out and morale is lower than it has been in my 31 years of teaching. Students of all ages are showing the impacts of the pandemic not only through learning loss – which is actually not as bad as I thought – but also through the inability to concentrate and disconnect from their mobile phone, work in collaborative groups and follow up on homework.
Their loss of understanding of how to “do school” was not corrected by a few weeks at the start of the year focusing on social and emotional learning. The pandemic has left most students about two years behind in maturity, which has led to difficulties adjusting to school expectations.
Teaching has never been so difficult.
I’m writing this on a Saturday evening after spending 6 hours correcting papers and planning because I couldn’t do that during the week. My service time was spent covering other teachers‘ classrooms and my planning time is only 45 minutes a day. During the spike in COVID cases in January, I was missing ⅓ to ½ of my students in each class each day. Some of them dropped off in class on Zoom, but most waited until they got back to catch up on their homework.
Keeping track of who needs to catch up on what, keeping in touch with parents of late students, and planning student progress at different paces takes over 45 minutes. Teachers are hanging by a thread mentally and physically. Some of them can’t hang on anymore.
We just don’t have enough qualified teachers. Beginning and mid-career teachers are choosing to leave the field for better pay and a better life/work balance. My own daughter-in-law, who was an amazing math teacher with 10 years of experience, left school to become a data analyst. She nearly doubled her teaching salary, adopted regular hours and now enjoys the ability to work from home during the pandemic. Other teachers jump from building to building in hopes of finding a better situation at the next school. It’s nearly impossible to fill positions – and when we do, we just create another opening elsewhere. There are very few substitutes available, so those in the building are covering classes and adding extra stress to their already difficult days.
We must meet the immediate needs of schools with a larger replacement pool. Allowing retired teachers to contract out more hours without losing their benefits is a step in the right direction, but we also need to consider other ideas such as increasing sub-wages and incentives to enroll in as a substitute. Teachers also need to know that the public always respects and supports us. We have been asked to give thanks to families and students throughout the pandemic. Now is the time to give teachers some grace.
For this year, get out of our plates certain things – such as DPAS assessments – which have no daily impact on student learning. In the long term, we need to increase teachers’ salaries. As a secondary school teacher, I try to encourage students who I believe have the qualities of an excellent teacher to enter the field. Their most common response is that they’ve thought about it, but they want to do something that will make them more money. We also need to have a public conversation about the expectations we place on teachers. It is impossible to fulfill our professional responsibilities during our contractual hours. There needs to be creative thinking about how to make education a desirable career, otherwise we won’t have enough teachers to meet our needs in the very near future.
Teachers, as weary as you are, now is the time for you to seek out organizations such as DSEA, Rodel Teacher Network and the new Delaware NBCT Network to share your experiences and ideas. I am appalled at the lack of public conversation about what is really happening in our schools as we try to return to what will be normal in a virtual educational world. It will take an open, honest, and public conversation that includes all types of educators, administrators, school boards, legislators, parents, students, and the general public to find a solution. I have dedicated my life to public education because I believe it is the foundation of a fair and equitable society for all. Now is the time to do more than band-aid our problems. Now is the time to make meaningful changes.
Robyn Howton is a National Board Certified Teacher based in Wilmington and a member of the Rodel Teacher Network.