National Public Radio reported last month that the National Education Association, the country’s largest teacher’s union, conducted a poll of its members, and 55 percent of respondents reported that they will leave the profession sooner than they had planned. The NPR report explains obvious factors such as complications brought on by the Covid pandemic, burnout, poor pay, and unfilled vacancies that result in more duties for remaining teachers.
Each of these reasons merit deeper examination. Even as classrooms appear to be returning to what we want to call normal, the learning experience for students has profoundly changed. This will have implications not merely for learners but for the millions of new teachers that schools will bring into classrooms over the next decade, not to mention the teachers dedicated or desperate enough to remain. Learning setbacks over the past two years will require immense, coordinated efforts to overcome. Moreover, the very digital technology that we employed to aid in instruction during the pandemic is rife with elements counter to the work of learning, and that technology is ever more a permanent part of modern education.
This adds depth to the phenomenon of teacher burnout. As circumstances continue to place obstacles between teachers and students, professionals must work harder in order to reach learners, to get them to engage, and to give the learning experiences enduring relevance. Prior to the pandemic, teaching was grueling enough and in most instances only modestly remunerative. For teachers to work harder, maintain their spirits, accept mediocre professional compensation, regain momentum lost to the pandemic, and do so as administrators struggle to regain schoolwide consistency and quality related to staffing represents an unprecedented set of demands.
And all of this is daunting in even the schools that enjoy the best of circumstances. Looking, however, to communities with economic and social disadvantages, we can see that the work becomes exponentially more confounding.
In short, a major crisis looms for public education. Educators, families, and the nation as a whole must recognize this immediately and take on this challenge. Our entire society depends upon it.