I've been struggling to write blog posts for quite some time. Why? Because I want to have the answers to questions people ask me all the time, and I just don't. There's a reason that the pandemic has been called "unprecedented"...it's because we have never done a pandemic like this. And even those of us who try to have answers or ideas can sometimes be at a loss. My deep desire to help and my inability to have solutions to what is happening right now leaves me absolutely speechless. So, let me tell you all the questions I've been asked that I just don't have the answers to:
What do we do about teacher attrition?
Hell if I know. As I've always said about teacher attrition, I want teachers to stay in the field - not only because we need them but because good people got into this profession for a reason, and it's a shame that we lose them. However, I don't want teachers to remain in the profession when they don't want to, either. That's not good for their mental health. So, we thought that a pandemic was going to be the catalyst for a systemic change. We were wrong. It may, however, be the collapse of a system that is built on the backs of people who are poorly paid and generally disrespected but are asked to provide an inhuman and selfless amount of emotional and mental energy to other humans. The pandemic may not be the collapse of the system, but the teacher attrition resulting from the pandemic might be. And unfortunately, that may finally be the catalyst for change we are looking for...but never wanted to find it in this way.
How do we fix the sub shortage?
Pay people more to be substitute teachers. Most substitutes don't make enough money to pay for their own children to be in daycare for the day. Change the public view of educators as being more than babysitters and instill a love for other people's children in the general population. Ask them to go back to school to learn to teach. Entice people to be educators so we have lots of substitutes. Beyond that, I have no idea.
How do we get more people to be teachers?
When I started teaching, I made 23K a year. We all know that nobody gets into education to make money. The reason people wanted to be teachers was that there was this romantic story of changing students' lives. And don't get me wrong, teachers do exactly this every single day. Literally all the time. More than any other profession, in my opinion. However, the position is no longer romantic enough to entice people to go into the field for poor pay. And yes, pay is a big deal. Not only does it sustain teachers' families but also the level of pay in society dictates how much respect a certain profession gets. We perpetuate the lack of respect by continuing to pay teachers poorly. And when you couple a lack of respect with poor pay, not many people are willing to overlook that for the opportunity to change lives. They're just not.
How do we address educator mental health?
Be willing to design a complete overhaul of your systems and your initiatives. Don't have 25 initiatives where each one "only" has three tasks for educators to do. That's 75 things. Smaller class sizes (you know, right now when we barely have teachers). Free mental health care for teachers AND their families. I'm still looking for the administration willing to take a good, hard look at what they are really asking teachers to do. I haven't met them yet.
No one has all the answers. Even though people may have expertise in certain areas, that doesn't mean they know what to do in a pandemic when the dung has officially hit the fan and people are (rightfully) bailing. The positive is that no matter what you are doing right now, as long as you are doing the best you can, you can't screw this up. Why? Because we don't know how to determine what is right because we have nothing to go on. If you are getting up every day, doing what's best for kids and loving on them, going home and taking some time for yourself, getting good sleep - you are absolutely rocking it right now. So, all those days that you feel like you don't have the answers, bask in the knowledge that nobody does. The beauty of unprecedented is that you get to determine what amazing looks like.