OPINION: Time to rally support for teachers

Teachers are heroes.

You heard that often during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers were front-line workers, if you ask me, and they also had to change their jobs in a fundamental way. Going from in-person to virtual was not in the lesson plan at the start of 2020.

I’m from a family of many teachers, so support comes readily. They ought to be more important than rock stars, more influential than movie stars, more renowned than athletes. That’s not the way it is in the world, of course.

It’s dispiriting that teachers are leaving the profession because of lack of respect.

A recent approval in Meriden of teacher salaries prevailed despite opposition, though the increase was similar to that for firefighters and police unions. It was said that the opposition was “not about the merits of the teaching profession itself and talent” (Republican Dan Brunet, City Council minority caucus leader), but it’s hard to see how teachers wouldn’t see it that way.

“It’s the respect, not being treated like professionals, needing higher pay, better wages and improving working conditions and I don’t think a lot of teachers see that happening.”

That was state Sen. Jan Hochadel, the Meriden Democrat. The comment appeared in a recent story by the Record-Journal’s Jessica Simms. The headline was “Fixing the teacher shortage,” but I don’t think that’s happening. Not yet, and maybe not ever.

Fixing it will have to deal with alarming statistics, including one from the American Federation of Teachers, cited in Simms’ story, that says even before the pandemic teachers were leaving the profession at a rate of nearly 300,000 a year. That the pandemic didn’t make that better is something I probably don’t have to tell you.

Hochadel, a former vo-tech teacher and president of the American Federation of Teachers CT, also had a perspective on that: “Teachers were faced with so much stress trying to work the best that they could and I don’t think they saw any way out for a long time. We saw so many teachers leave the profession or retire at the end of 2020, it was astonishing.”

Another statistic. Across the nation in October 45% of public schools said they had one or more vacant teaching positions. Local educators Simms talked to tried to put forward some optimism, but there have been indications of shortage stress. Wilcox Technical High School, in Meriden, had to shut down for a day because of staffing shortages. Parents have also sued the school, saying their children are being deprived of a math teacher.

The R-J story is also worth a look because it offers ways of supporting teachers. My take is that a community really needs to stay alert to what’s going on in the schools and what teachers and administrators need in support.

What remains unsettling is the empty space in learning left by the pandemic. You might wonder what age group it hurt the most: Early grade school, middle school, high school?

What ought not to be a wonder is that we need teachers now more than ever to help fill those gaps in learning. The people they are teaching will be running the world one day. You might ask: What kind of world will that be?

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.



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