Editorial: A Lost Generation of Teachers?
NEW ORLEANS – As the country braces for another spike in COVID-19 cases, many schools must transition to virtual learning. While they have planned for this possibility, the work entailed puts an enormous strain on teachers.
A recent survey of public school teachers in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes by Teach For America Greater New Orleans confirmed that teachers are feeling scared and overwhelmed, with 63% of respondents citing health risks as top of mind.
“This is the first time since I was 17 years old that I have considered not being a teacher and am doing so multiple times a week,” said one respondent. “I have had conversations with veteran teachers who are feeling the same way.”
Understandably, teachers are concerned about the health risks associated with in-person learning for students and themselves. What concerns me most as the leader of an education organization? Teacher burnout and stress were brought up repeatedly in the same survey, with some questioning if teaching is a safe and sustainable career.
These findings are consistent with current data from the American Federation of Teachers, which shows that more than 30% of teachers surveyed say the pandemic has made them more likely to retire early or leave teaching altogether. The AFT also found that 42% of teachers overall in southern cities were considering leaving the classroom.
This data is reflective of the increase in teacher vacancies across the country. It is also an alarming, urgent call to invest in the teaching force locally, where NOLA Public Schools has grappled with an attrition rate of 900 teachers per year even before the pandemic.
The bottom line is that teachers are already overworked and must now also put their lives on the line for students – which means the community is at an even greater risk of losing them.
Despite untenable choices every day, schools are using what they have to make the learning environment safe. Now that the election season is past, state and federal leaders must acknowledge that the community is asking teachers and schools to shoulder the immense burden of an inadequate and inequitable system of support for students and families. It is untenable and unfair.
Leaders must prioritize education as one of the most important issues of our time. I urge them to listen to our educators. They are the backbone of our education system.
I also urge our voters to consider this issue in the coming runoff elections and whenever they step into the voting booth. We must do whatever it takes to understand what our teachers need to get through this crisis and make teaching a lifelong career.
We need our teachers now more than ever. They are asking for our help; it’s up to voters and decision- makers at every level to listen and act.
By Joy Okoro, executive director of Teach For America Greater New Orleans