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The first week of May is designated Teacher Appreciation Week. Across the country, schools and communities will celebrate their teachers in numerous unique and wonderful ways. However, this annual recognition is somewhat overshadowed this year by the reports coming out about a looming teacher exodus at a time when there is already a national teacher shortage. Recent studies show that over 50% of educators are considering leaving the profession in the next several years, citing a number of factors including post COVID stress, work conditions, rising public negativity towards public education, and attractive private sector opportunities. These data suggest a huge crisis for schools across the country and demand immediate attention. While this situation requires a broad range of solutions, some areas of focus are suggested below:

  1. Address Compensation: We have known for a long time that teachers are egregiously underpaid. Starting salaries pale to other sectors and it takes far too long for teachers to ascend to a pay scale remotely equivalent to their education levels. While it is often cited that teachers are not sharing pay as the number one reason for leaving, compensation is keeping talented individuals from entering the profession and changes in the private sector job market have opened up new opportunities. While there are many issues that need systemic change as it relates to compensating teachers, not the least of which is ensuring the best teachers can earn more money, dramatically improving teacher pay is critical to meet the current challenge.
  1. Focus on Supporting Teachers and Investing in their Professional Growth: A study by the New Teacher Project several years ago entitled “The Indispensables” documented that school districts are losing their best teachers at a higher rate than their least effective ones. The most effective teachers reported a lack of support and commitment to their professional growth as the major reasons for leaving education. These quality teachers know they are good, but crave evaluation systems and professional development that help then take their craft to the next level. They yearn to be in an environment where some of the basic roadblocks to educating children; reasonable class sizes, supplies, and quality tools are provided. With the challenges and stress of the pandemic over the last few years, addressing the social and emotional needs of staff as well as students also must be a priority. Many private sector organizations have long invested in areas such as professional development and quality evaluation systems and have more rapidly pivoted post COVID to address the needs of their workforce in ways public education has lagged. These must change immediately.
  1. Promote Respect for Teachers: So many studies comparing our nation’s education system to other countries cite a number of factors that contribute to why we lag on international test scores. One that does not get enough attention is the profound respect educators are afforded in these nations compared to the USA. Many studies show that while teachers are appreciated, the public as a whole does not respect the profession and do not have it high on the list as promising careers for their children. Contrast this to other countries who celebrate education at the same levels as medicine and law. While this has been an issue for a long time, it is further compounded by policy changes across the country. Several states are setting up “hot lines” for people to resort suspicious behavior or lessons in the classroom. Some states are considering allowing private citizens to take legal action against teachers who they deem to be teaching objectionable materials. Right as COVID first hit, and as parents began to understand how truly difficult the job of a teacher is, there was a renewed respect for the profession that has seemed to dissipate. We must recapture that. School district leaders need to work in collaboration with state and national policymakers to address concerns parents may have about curriculum while also lifting up and celebrating our nation’s educators.

This challenge is real and we must respond to this moment. We can spend this time of “Teacher Appreciation Week” extending small tokens of gratitude to our country’s teachers, or we can begin to engage in meaningful and systemic changes to lift this profession to the importance and prominence it should have always had.