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It’s safe to assume most teachers aren’t in their particular career field for the money. Whether they simply love kids, want to make a difference in their communities, or dream of a more equitable future, teachers come to school with a passion for educating — and leave with a paycheck that does not even come close to reflecting their efforts.
In fact, teachers are being stretched thinner than ever before. Between daily lessons, standardized tests, administrative concerns, relationship-building with students and parents, navigating widespread public health and safety concerns, and more, they have reached a breaking point.
This year, the National Education Association (NEA) released findings from a survey that shows that 55% of teachers say they plan to leave the profession sooner than they planned.
And there is no one to replace them. The number of people enrolled in teacher preparation programs across the country fell by more than a third between 2010 and 2018, according to the Center for American Progress. And that was before the global pandemic.
Although teachers have every right to do what is best for them, those who stay are even further sent to the brink of burnout, as they take on additional responsibilities, care for larger class sizes, are at higher risks of getting sick — and still face low pay and minimal career advancement.
So how do we keep teachers teaching — and not just teaching, but living full, healthy lives?
Three ways to keep teachers teaching (and help prevent burnout):
1. Pay teachers more
First, we need to address the elephant in the room: money. College students who want to become teachers face a high accumulation of student debt and their salaries do not make that debt relief any easier (teachers in America, on average, make $63,000 annually, according to Education Week. Business Insider reports that the median necessary living wage across the U.S. is $67,690.)
However, according to Fast Company, over 80% of school expenditures already go to salaries and benefits, and these budgets are often controlled by local governments. Legislative pressure is needed to pay teachers more — in addition to subsidizing teacher prep, tuition fees, and testing certifications.
And there’s some great information to help you win over your local government: paying teachers more makes a big difference in student outcomes. Jason Baron, author of a paper in the American Economic Journal, discovered that additional spending on teacher salaries and support services positively affected test scores, dropout rates, and postsecondary enrollment, compared to expenditures on new buildings and renovations, which had little impact.
2. Make teachers’ jobs easier
Another solution to retaining and attracting new teachers is by implementing programs and procedures that make the job easier.
Whether it’s a new modality in digital learning, co-teaching, mentorship programs, or frameworks for wellness within a school district, both political and school leaders must be willing to embrace flexibility in this new era of education.
Experts also suggest that building belonging in school communities is vital to strengthening teachers’ well-being and professional development. The Center for Teacher Quality says it’s as simple as providing teachers with a place to share feelings and feedback — and implementing it.
School boards must welcome and embrace teachers in their decision-making processes, and administrators must prioritize relationship building with each individual teacher on their team.
“Research tells us that fostering strong relationships and giving students voice and agency, as well as opportunities for active learning, are necessary to engage and motivate them,” Educator Katy Farber writes for Edutopia.
“But aren’t these important for teachers, too? We know that students feel the stress teachers bring to their jobs. Therefore, protecting the professionalism and wellness of teachers will ultimately benefit students, too.”
3. Play an active role in your school community
Supporting teachers isn't just a job for administrators and school boards. We all have a role to play.
Parents and community members can encourage teacher support by electing school board candidates who prioritize modern teacher needs (no candidates like that in your area? Run for office!), speak up on the state level (or, again, run for office), and empower federal leaders to improve education standards nationwide.
While systemic changes must be made, taking care of one another truly does make a world of difference. Bring your child’s teacher a meal during a busy week (beyond just Teacher Appreciation Week!), gather a parent group together to chip in money for a massage, or even a much-needed vacation. Be a partner in your child’s education and encourage them to respect their teachers.
To keep teachers teaching, students learning, and families thriving, we must function in community. Teachers do incredible work to shape the future, but they aren’t invincible heroes; they are our friends, our neighbors, our fellow humans. It’s time to treat them as such.
A version of this article was originally published in The Education Edition of the Goodnewspaper.
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