It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and while flowers, candies and other goodies don’t go unnoticed, teachers need much more, such as structural and long-term changes in pay, working conditions and expectations.
Our schools seem to be in crisis, teachers are leaving in record numbers and the pool of incoming teachers is not keeping up with the demand. Working in K-12 advocacy, we get a constant look into the challenges school staff members face, and we are truly concerned and sense the urgency to improve school conditions.
To better understand the challenges in our schools ENN recently held a discussion with Nevada educators and support professionals to better understand their needs and the crisis in education.
If you didn’t get a chance to tune in, you can view the video here.
Below are the concerns shared from the educators and support professionals we interviewed and our takeaways from the panel.
- Nevada is a straw house – Classes were always large (Nevada has had the largest class sizes in the country for years). Our schools have long had among the highest chronic absences among students. Teacher and staff vacancies have been a headline for many years prior to the pandemic. Covid amplified these issues, but they’ve been there for a long time.
- Demands have increased, resources haven’t – Class sizes have grown exponentially and testing demands and other requirements, such as documentation, reporting and paperwork, have increased by significant amounts over the last few decades. Oftentimes new state mandates don’t come with the funding for all the resources needed to properly carry them out.
- Too much testing – A national study by the Council of Great City Schools found students take an average of 113 standardized tests between Pk-12 grades. From a teacher – “The overfocus (on testing) is a problem because we are so tied to standardized testing where we have to do math and reading all the time, so we cut the arts. We don’t have the money so we have to cut P.E., science programs. The things kids enjoy going to school to do are the things that we immediately take away. When did we become okay with school not being fun at all?”
- Teachers want autonomy- “When we are able to have the autonomy to be able to do what we know is right for students, that is truly what feeds that efficacy. That is the antidote to burnout.” “People that aren’t in the classroom are making decisions for teachers, and what they are doing.”
- Support Professionals need support, too – Support professionals like custodians, bus drivers, special ed aids, and others don’t get a salary and many don’t even get an 8/hr work day. Some get paid as little as $9/hr and are easily allured to higher paying jobs in other sectors, leaving schools without the critical help they need. If we want to support teachers, we need to support the people that support them as well.
- Better pay – Salaries for teachers do not keep up with inflation. In fact, in 2015 Clark County teachers got a raise, but it came at the cost of increased class sizes which moved Nevada up from 7th largest class sizes to the largest in the country. Cost of living in Washoe County from 2015-2018 went up by 21% with only a 7% pay raise for educators during that time. Adequate pay is critical to attracting and retaining teachers and staff, just like for any other profession.
- Reimagine testing, curriculums and programs – According to the teachers we interviewed, money would be better spent on educators, school staff and resources rather than “the millions of dollars paid to these (vendor) companies.” Teachers know the curriculum and how to build lesson plans and we need to trust them to do that without spending money on materials they don’t want or need.
- Communicate – Although teachers are busy, they are not too busy to hear from parents. Let them know what is going on at home, have a dialogue when possible and communicate with kids at home. Make the time to check in. “The relationship that I have with my students is not just between the two of us. You (parents) are a partner in that relationship and with you in there you’ll be able to hear about their needs and what it means to your school and your children.”
Takeaways – Educators and support professionals don’t just need pay raises, they also need an environment that respects them as professionals, and they need to be listened to. With Nevada having the lowest K-12 funding in the country, raises will come at the sacrifice of increased class sizes, less resources or less support professionals. It’s not all about money either.Many other changes can be made that make schools a better place to work and learn. So talk to teachers and staff, ask them what they need and advocate for them – they’d really appreciate that.
Our Commitment – The problem is not going away with time. Nevada is already seeing one of the largest teaching vacancies in history. It’s scary to think how we will start off the next school year this coming fall if the trend continues. It’s time for real action and advocacy. We can’t afford to lose any more teachers and support professionals. We need to become the state that recruits and retains educators, and properly supports all those who work in our schools. We want our students to be successful. We will continue to advocate for improved school resources and continue to engage with school staff, students and parents to understand their needs and learn how we can advocate for them. We have partnered with the Empower Nevada’s Future campaign to fund Nevada schools at the national average. You can sign the pledge here www.EmpowerNevadasFuture.org
Teachers, is there something we left out or something that we need to know about K-12 advocacy? Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.