This week we commence National Teacher Appreciation Week and after so many of us have had to assume the job of “teacher” the last few weeks – it goes without saying how much more appreciative we all are of our educators. Aside from coaching their students, continuing with lesson plans and having to be available during the pandemic, many teachers must also support remote learning for their own children. Teachers also deal with the same stressors many of us face.
This week many of us will sing the praises of our teachers, recognize how they go above and beyond and highlight the difference they make for our students.
However, another way to honor them is by recognizing the struggles and challenges of being a teacher and acknowledging how we as a society have failed to support our teachers despite their importance.
Class size: Despite efforts to implement class size reduction in Nevada since 1989, class sizes have instead increased in the state with the statewide average teacher to student ratio at 25:1. This number is skewed since it includes special education classes and rural schools – in many cases the number is much larger. Stories of classrooms with 40 or 50 students are all too common – not to mention that many teachers report relying on students being absent to ensure all students get a seat in a classroom. Nevada has the distinction of having some of the largest classrooms in the nation with no relief in sight.
Evaluations: Are psychologists evaluated and paid based on how happy their clients are? Do firefighters get evaluated based on how many fires they put out? While many professionals are often evaluated, few face the same scrutiny that our teachers do. Teachers have a lot of pressure to increase test scores regardless and despite their students’ circumstances, we expect so much of them without giving our teachers the tools and appropriate classes necessary to make it happen. According to data from the National Council on Teacher Quality, only 15 states required student-growth data in teacher evaluations in 2009, that number grew to 43 states in 2015. This was later rolled back the following year under the new federal Every Students Succeed Act (ESSA). Nevada still requires student achievement data to be part of teacher evaluations. Whether right or wrong – this still is a lot of added pressure on teachers, especially when struggling with outdated curriculum and technology, huge class sizes, and lack of over essential resources.
Reporting and Documenting: As education is always the hot topic for which everyone wants input and few have experience, just about every legislative session comes with intense scrutiny of schools and their process. So many new bills come with more expectations, documenting and reporting. For example, bullying prevention and Read by Third Grade requires hours of reporting and documenting, and several well intentioned and necessary laws require more and more work but come without sufficient resources to account for the increased load. This is in addition to having to create lesson plans, grade papers and work on performance reports which all too often creep into after school hours and weekends or what should be personal time.
Changes: Common Core, Read by Third Grade, Performance Frameworks, No Child Left Behind, Every Student Succeeds, Goals 2000, America 2000, STEM priorities, College and Career Readiness, and so much about what to prioritize, how to teach, how to be evaluated, what results are expected are changed every few years – throwing teachers for a loop and expecting them to readjust time and time again. To an outsider, hearing educators talk about all the different initiatives and acronyms might just sound like jargon but it changes a lot of how our kids are educated and how teachers have to do their job – it’s a task.
No Money: It’s a well-known fact that teachers are underpaid, but in Nevada, the last few years of getting a raise came at the cost of increased class sizes. When you factor in how much teachers are paid per student, Nevada teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. In other sectors raises don’t come with more responsibilities and if they do that’s called a promotion – something teachers aren’t necessarily getting. Even then, the average teacher in Nevada still spends more than $500 a year of their own money on their students – the sixth highest in the country. Additionally, teacher incentives often fall short of their intentions. Recently Nevada provided financial incentives for teachers to move to Title I or underperforming schools while completely ignoring the teachers who had already been making that commitment to those students. Imagine how unappreciated those teachers felt.
Uncertainty: Teachers can only “work from home” for so long, students need their face to face time and parents need their kids back at school. And while teachers stepped up immediately, creating lesson plans, setting up ZOOM classes and other resources, it is NOT sustainable. Already some teachers have reported not being able to connect with parents and students or not getting work back. Will teachers be evaluated again on the next student assessments even during pandemic schooling? And when kids go back to school, let’s remember that teachers (and all school staff) will be putting their own health at risk. The needs of our students will only increase as a result of Covid-19 and instead we face uncertainty in funding, uncertainty in continued resources and no immediate end in sight. How will we ensure social distancing in overcrowded classrooms? How are we going to ask small kids to cover their faces and to not touch anyone?
All this probably explains why almost half of teachers leave the profession within five years and why so many teachers say they feel burned out. So, as many of us are experiencing some of the “joys” of teaching let’s not only honor our teachers with “Thank You’s”, chocolates, mugs and gift cards (though these are likely their favorite). Honor teachers by pressuring our legislature to provide quality work conditions with smaller classrooms, better resources, more support and less contingencies so that our teachers can get back to focusing on shaping the future of our state. They deserve to feel happy and valued.