Opinion Blog

Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Profession Opinion

A Recent Report Sparked Ire in the Field. One Teacher Explains Why

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 27, 2023 7 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A recent report on the pandemic’s impact on teaching and learning was published based on anonymous feedback from the leaders of five school districts.

I would characterize some of these anonymous comments as district leaders throwing teachers under the bus instead of taking responsibility themselves. The Wall Street Journal used the insulting term “teaching loss.”

Here’s another teacher’s take on the report:

Instead of Blaming Teachers, Listen to Us

Chanea Bond, M.Ed., (she/her) is a proud public school teacher who teaches various levels of high school English in Texas:

Earlier this month, several news organizations covered a report released by the RAND Corp. and the Center on Reinventing Public Education. The report is composed of observations from leaders of five anonymous school districts. Neither the report nor the articles reporting on it include concerns that teachers have about instruction or district guidance and leadership, so allow me to address some of those concerns here. Quotes are taken directly from the report.

We spent a lot of money on retention bonuses and ‘please stay’ payments. You might as well burn that money because it didn’t bear out. People left anyway.”

Rather than blaming teachers for leaving, districts should ask themselves what circumstances have led to the profession becoming so unsustainable that even (finally) compensating teachers for carrying society through crisis after crisis is not enough to make us stay? The idea that money spent on teachers was not worth the tremendous amount of work we did from the spring of 2020 to now is a huge slap in the face and further acknowledgment of how little those district leaders know about what teachers did and continue to do.

“There are a lot more teachers just delivering content and kids being very disengaged.”

During the height of the pandemic, one message was loud and clear: Give students grace. In the face of all the uncertainty, teachers were encouraged, and even required, to be flexible and show as much leniency as possible. Teachers took on the labor of reimagining standards and expectations to ensure student success. This grace often came at the expense of our own time, energy, and training.

Now, those same students are one to two grades removed from their pandemic school years, and teachers are tasked with catching students up, again without resources and with little to no guidance from leadership. As a high school English teacher, I witness students unable to write complete sentences every day and I have no choice but to address those underdeveloped skills. While district leaders are clamoring to return to “normal,” our students are anything but. The grace that school leaders preached has dissipated, and the lingering impact of the last few school years has yet to be addressed in real and substantive ways.

whiledistrict

Students’ reliance on their cellphones increased exponentially during the pandemic because it was often their only means of communication with the outside world. Now that students are back in classrooms, that reliance is a huge barrier to engagement. Teachers are competing against social media, a multibillion-dollar industry whose sole job is engagement, and we’re losing.

In the absence of any district phone policy, I developed a policy that works for my classroom with money from my own pocket. No teacher should have to spend their own money fixing problems that school districts are aware of and refuse to address. Our students are obsessed with their phones and district leaders are burying their heads in the sand instead of coming up with tangible, thoughtful, and equitable solutions to help teachers help students.

“Teacher appetite for engaging in professional learning outside of the school day [has not returned. Teachers] really just aren’t attending.”

In far too many school districts, professional development is a joke. Mandated district PD rarely applies to classroom practice, and, when it does, it is not consistently offered to all teachers. Every day, I witness teachers on social media asking for resources and tools to help students because districts refuse to invest in curriculum and training that actually matters.

infartoomany

District leaders, who are often more than several years removed from the classroom, are oblivious to the reality of our students’ needs and should spend time in classrooms instead of forcing teachers into “professional development” that doesn’t develop us professionally. Every teacher I know is craving genuine professional development and resources to help us make our work more meaningful. The fact that online marketplace Teachers Pay Teachers continues to be profitable is evidence enough of this truth.

Over 1,000 teachers died during the height of the pandemic. Most schools acknowledged these deaths with a meeting or an email and then proceeded with business as usual. Teacher leaders on my campus were given more work with no resources or compensation and zero acknowledgement from district leaders. Armed with the knowledge that our lives and work would be reduced to a single staff meeting, teachers started enforcing boundaries around our time outside of work. We are less willing to expend our energy to prop up a system that will replace us with little to no acknowledgement when we die and saddle our colleagues with the responsibility of more work “for the kids.”

The “conclusions and implications” section of the report asks a multitude of stakeholders, from federal policymakers to philanthropies, to invest in helping improve teachers’ skills and instruction. What is missing is a candid reflection on the roles district leaders continue to play in leaving teachers high and dry.

In the spring of 2020, any time I drove across the metropolitan area where I live and work, lawn signs and banners decorated schools big and small that read “heroes work here!” This sentiment was short-lived and now, according to leaders from five anonymous school districts, we’re barely considered competent professionals. If districts truly want to retain and recruit quality teachers, this report should serve as a reminder that it’s time to listen to the folks who work in front of students. Treat teachers like the degreed professionals we are, ask us what we need to help students be successful, and then make it happen, within reason.

“All hands on deck” must include the hands of district leaders, or there won’t be enough teachers for them to lead.

thisreport

Thanks to Chanea for contributing her thoughts!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 11 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers’ Careers Go Through Phases. They Need Support in Each
Teachers experience a dip in job satisfaction a few years into their careers.
5 min read
Vector illustration of a female teacher at her desk with her head in her hands. There are papers, stacked notebooks, and a pen on the desk and a very light photo of a blurred school hallway with bustling students walking by in the background.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Download Downloadable: 5 Ways Principals Can Help With Teacher Burnout
This downloadable gives school leaders and teachers various ways to spot and treat teacher burnout.
1 min read
Silhouette of a woman with an icon of battery with low charge and icons such as a scribble line, dollar sign and lightning bolt floating around the blue background.
Canva
Teaching Profession Massages, Mammograms, and Dental Care: How One School Saves Teachers' Time
This Atlanta school offers unique onsite benefits to teachers to help them reduce stress.
3 min read
Employees learn more about health and wellness options during a mini benefits fair put on by The Lovett School in Atlanta on May 8, 2024.
Employees at the Lovett School in Atlanta meet with health benefits representatives during a mini benefits fair on May 8, 2024.
Erin Sintos for Education Week
Teaching Profession Opinion How Two Teachers Helped Me Weave a Dream
A journalist and debut book author dedicates her novel to two of her high school English teachers.
Anne Shaw Heinrich
3 min read
Image of nurturing the craft of writing.
Francis Sheehan for Education Week with N. Kurbatova / iStock / Getty