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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
- It Was Another Busy School Year. What Resonated for You?
- How to Best Address Race and Racism in the Classroom
- Schools Just Let Out, But What Are the Best Ways to Begin the Coming Year?
- Classroom Management Starts With Student Engagement
- Teacher Takeaways From the Pandemic: What’s Worked? What Hasn’t?
- The School Year Has Ended. What Are Some Lessons to Close Out Next Year?
- Student Motivation and Social-Emotional Learning Present Challenges. Here’s How to Help
- How to Challenge Normative Gender Culture to Support All Students
- What Students Like (and Don’t Like) About School
- Technology Is the Tool, Not the Teacher
- How to Make Parent Engagement Meaningful
- Teaching Social Studies Isn’t for the Faint of Heart
- Differentiated Instruction Doesn’t Need to Be a Heavy Lift
- How to Help Students Embrace Reading. Educators Weigh In
- 10 Strategies for Reaching English-Learners
- 10 Ways to Include Teachers in Important Policy Decisions
- 10 Teacher-Proofed Strategies for Improving Math Instruction
- Give Students a Role in Their Education
- Are There Better Ways Than Standardized Tests to Assess Students? Educators Think So
- How to Meet the Challenges of Teaching Science
- If I’d Only Known. Veteran Teachers Offer Advice for Beginners
- Writing Well Means Rewriting, Rewriting, Rewriting
- Christopher Emdin, Gholdy Muhammad, and More Education Authors Offer Insights to the Field
- How to Build Inclusive Classrooms
- What Science Can Teach Us About Learning
- The Best Ways for Administrators to Demonstrate Leadership
- Listen Up: Give Teachers a Voice in What Happens in Their Schools
- 10 Ways to Build a Healthier Classroom
- Educators Weigh In on Implementing the Common Core, Even Now
- What’s the Best Professional-Development Advice? Teachers and Students Have Their Say
- Plenty of Instructional Strategies Are Out There. Here’s What Works Best for Your Students
- How to Avoid Making Mistakes in the Classroom
- Looking for Ways to Organize Your Classroom? Try Out These Tips
- Want Insight Into Schooling? Here’s Advice From Some Top Experts
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.