American children go back to school. Not all professors will join them : NPR


Teachers across the United States are facing challenges on many fronts, and it’s pushing many to leave.

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Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images

Teachers across the United States are facing challenges on many fronts, and it’s pushing many to leave.

Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images

It’s a new school year and Jake Miller isn’t moving his class to central Pennsylvania. He doesn’t get to know a new group of eighth graders in his social studies class. After 15 years of teaching, he quit.

“I was accused of teaching critical race theory when I taught how the Civil War was fought against racism and slavery,” he said.

A few parents complained but were not satisfied with the school board‘s response.

“So they took it to a state official who used it as a dog whistle,” he said.

It was just too much, Miller said. He cannot teach civil war without teaching racism and slavery. But this incident is not the only thing that pushed him to leave.

“There were other times before that,” he said. “It seemed like the icing on the cake.”

There was the shortage of substitute teachers which made it difficult to take time off to be there when your children were sick. The low salary. Lack of respect from parents and politicians; a lack of resources; and, of course, the pandemic.

“There’s been an attack on education for quite some time,” Miller said. “The pandemic was just too much of a drag. It was the albatross that pulled me down. And I knew I had to pivot.”

Today, he is a business consultant and earns 50% more than when he was a teacher.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education says the shortage is real as teachers like Miller leave. The spokesperson said they need thousands of new teachers and educators in other roles over the next three years, otherwise the problem could become chronic.

Other state districts across the country are also scrambling to find and keep enough teachers to lead their classrooms as educators face burnout.

Some teachers report increasing pressure.

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John Moore/Getty Images

Some teachers report increasing pressure.

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Teachers also face unprecedented challenges: school board meetings spiraling into chaos over COVID policies; the battles resulting from a politicized and ill-informed panic over critical race theory; book ban; and a call to arm teachers in the face of armed violence.

Educators are on the front line in the face of these societal fractures which can be frightening.

Miller said he’s not sure he’ll ever return to education.

“To be honest, it’s going to take teachers being treated like professionals, getting their dignity back, and getting the public to rally behind them for people like me to think about it,” he said.

We expect to do more, without support

Teachers across the country are making calculations similar to Miller’s.

Last year, Alexander Calderon’s colleague abruptly resigned. Overnight, he went from a seventh-grade English teacher to a social studies teacher.

“I felt like there was little to no support in terms of understanding this new program,” Calderon said. “I was really at my breaking point at the point where I just thought I was leaving.”

So he opened the Notes app on his phone and started writing a list.

Benefits of the job: the salary was not bad comparatively; his colleagues were supportive; he wanted to be there for his students.

Cons: very little support from the administration; he was doing the work of two teachers; school morale was terrible; and he was supervising a teacher after the next leave.

Although his list of cons was slightly longer, this week Calderon started a new school year teaching both English Language Arts and Social Studies. His list is still saved on his phone.

“Children are my number one priority,” he said. “Seeing what the kids’ interests are and getting to know them as people is what ultimately made me stay.”

He also said he was the only Spanish-speaking staff at his college. He remembers when a student – ​​originally from Nicaragua – enrolled. He saw the boy’s mother struggle to understand the system and communicate.

“It made me think of my own mother struggling in the American education system,” he said.

Calderon stepped in to help. This is another reason why he will not resign.

“I felt like I was kind of morally obligated to stay,” he said.

Teach in anger, but with love

Then there are the teachers who plan to stick it out no matter what, like Eric Hale. He is a first-grade teacher in the Dallas Independent School District.

In 2021, he was named Texas Statewide Teacher of the Year, the first African-American male to win this honor.

“I got to meet these phenomenal educators who represented their state and we got to meet the president. It was a year-long bonding experience,” he said. “Of my crew, only me and the Illinois State teacher are still actively in class.”

He says he knows why they left.

“A lot of them, especially teachers of color, got tired of fighting a system that wasn’t necessarily designed for people like me and the kids I serve to be successful,” he said. declared. “They were fed up with the lack of respect for the profession and above all, they were fed up with the lack of remuneration.”

But when asked if he would ever leave, Hale said no.

“Because I’m in a position and I’ve had the chance to change the face of education,” he said.

Each teacher has their own motivation and what attracts them to the classroom.

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Each teacher has their own motivation and what attracts them to the classroom.

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Growing up as a black student from a poor neighborhood who had no support system, Hale had no teacher who looked like him — no teacher who truly understood his needs.

“So I’m teaching angry. I’m chasing the ghost of the teacher I wish I had when I was a kid,” he said.

He remembers having to go to church for meals because his family could not always afford to buy food. He didn’t have a support system at home, and he couldn’t find any at school either.

“I grew up being abused and traumatized in a neighborhood that was underserved from generation to generation,” he said. “So, unfortunately, I didn’t have great teachers. I just had one who made a difference.”

Now, he’s that everyday teacher in his first-grade classroom, where many of his students live in poverty and the school just doesn’t get the books and equipment that public schools in wealthier areas get.

“I teach in the same kind of neighborhood that I grew up in, and so I fight for these kids because I know the potential,” he said. “I firmly believe that some of the brightest minds come from the darkest places.”

During that time, he said, he watched this uproar over critical race theory across the country. Teachers can barely afford the resources for their own curriculum, he said, so it’s laughable that they shell out money for a college curriculum.

“They’re trying to criminalize good teaching,” he said.

It’s a political weapon, he says, to stop teachers like him. Teachers who think about the race, ethnicity and circumstances of every student they have and how to help them connect.

“I teach every child I serve in the Texas State curriculum. I add images in literature and in person to this curriculum to inspire them that they can be a doctor, a lawyer, a novelist, an author,” did he declare. “By bringing people who come from the same regions as them.”

“So because I’m African American, I have to do my research and find great Hispanic leaders, because the population I serve is predominantly Hispanic. I wish someone brought a judge to the school. I wish someone would have brought in a current member of Congress, a senator, the mayor. … Representation matters.”

Hale is an elegant outfit: an emerald green tie, a navy blazer, complemented by a bright orange pocket square. In his class, he has a DJ booth where he plays songs he has made. Each bears the name of a student, the rhythms and melodies are adapted to his personality.

“Each song is special and unique, just like kids,” he said. “Because I’m sitting at home and going, ‘Oh man, Jaime is very active. His feet are still moving. So I like these drums. They have a little pitter noise. So I’m able to describe the songs to them and it makes them feel so special and makes them feel so loved.”

It’s what he would have wanted when he was a child. This is why Eric Hale teaches.

Jake Miller, who left teaching, said he was teaching thanks to a teacher who inspired him to be the first in his family to go to college.

Alexander Calderon teaches about being the bridge builder for students who need him in the public school system.

And all of them, whether they stay or go, look to the future of education with hope.

“I have two young sons,” Miller said. “So you better believe I’m hopeful that the education they receive will be as good, if not better, than the education I received.”

“I know there will always be teachers in the classroom who will hold out for the long haul,” Calderon said.

And Hale leaves very little to chance: “I pray and write a plan. How am I going to fix this? Why wait for Superman when you have a cape in the closet?”

They said the future was in these students. But what that future looks like depends, they said, on whether educators at the front of the room feel valued enough to stay.

Taylor Haney contributed to this report.


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