During the last century, education faced many times of crisis, largely pertaining to the enactment of new laws or Supreme Court decisions. Education today faces a new crisis, this time stemming from the needs of educators themselves, as forecast in the Nov. 1 Hartford Courant article: “New teachers are leaving Hartford Public Schools at an alarming pace, with one out of every four teachers moving on after their first year on the job.”
The demands of teaching have increased steadily over the past few decades, adding technology skills, social-emotional development, student success plans, multicultural education, standardized testing, and family engagement tasks to the educator’s workload that began with the “three R’s.” Though these are all important aspects of teaching to the child as a whole, little if any thought or planning went into how to balance these new educational goals with the existing teacher workload. They simply got added on.
The teaching profession was already becoming more stressful, then the coronavirus pandemic hit with the immediate demands of digital literacy skills and adjusting to changing schedules from fully remote, hybrid, and concurrent teaching models. Now, educators are part of the “Great Resignation.”
They are tired of feeling overworked and under-appreciated. Despite being professionals, they are allowed little academic freedom, constrained by minute-by-minute instructional pacing schedules and work in school environments where even their principals have little authority to make changes that would improve working conditions. Thus, teachers resign weekly, simply having had enough. The staffing shortages existing in many Hartford schools is at a crisis stage and is negatively impacting student achievement as much as, if not more than, the pandemic itself.
For the sake of our students, we must make immediate changes in the educational system if we hope to turn this tide.
We must end top-down management and business models of accountability. Give principals back the authority to run their schools. Suspend strategic goals to focus on one: staff retention and stability. Reduce standardized testing and increase instructional time. Make salaries competitive. Re-professionalize the profession and empower staff to use its expertise to find solutions that work for their school communities. Encourage staff collaboration with increased shared planning times. Increase music and art programs and bring back student concerts and dramatic performances to build the sense of community and belonging lost through school consolidation and reconstitutions. Provide a mentor to every new hire. Engage with the labor force.
This crisis, as all crises, will be resolved. The fate of education in Hartford hinges on whether it will be resolved positively or negatively. A familiar phrase in teaching is, “You can’t teach a student who isn’t engaged.” Today, we must realize our students can’t learn if there aren’t enough staff to teach them.
Carol Gale is president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers.