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There’s a crisis in our schools… and it’s not what you think

If you don’t know it yet IT’S TIME TO START PAYING ATTENTION. We are in the midst in a crisis in our schools in America, one that should be treated as a public threat to the long term good of our country instead of being relegated to the proverbial back burner. We are losing the adults in the schools faster than we can replace them. It’s that simple, and yet it’s exceedingly complex. Back in 2011 at a meeting of school administrators I spoke on this, warning that it was coming. At that point we weren’t really seeing the cracks yet but the warning signs were there already. We were at “Stage One” of the problem: it was coming but it was not here yet. Fast forward now to 2021. Do a quick Google search and you will now find stories from all across the country, headlines talking about the fact that schools are running into shortages of teachers, bus drivers, lunchroom staff… you name it.

We’re at “Stage Two” I think: the crisis is here and we now can see it but it’s not quite bad enough to impact our society as a whole. But if you pay attention, the headlines are telling us: It’s about to get really bad. I mean REALLY bad. That will be “Stage Three.” The shortages of educators and staff will eventually lead to a shut down of some schools, some temporarily, and some possibly forever. After all, you can’t have a school with out teachers and support staff. It will be that that point that the impact upon the children of our nation will be undeniable. Again, this is a national problem that will be felt in every state and every town in some way.

So then what do we do or how can we avoid Stage Three altogether? I was asked that question back in 2011 and my answer today is still the same: “When things get bad enough, even those who seemingly detract from education in the country will be forced to recognize the problem and will say, ‘We get it. Let’s tackle this together.’” So what are the issues? As I mentioned, it’s complex. Typically when there is a supply vs demand issue in the work force, salary is the first thought. That is a part of it but that’s not the long-term solution nor gets at the root of the problem. It’s really about the working conditions and we are a society are at fault for that. Our expectations of our educators and our staff members is increasingly nearly impossible to meet. I could write a book on this but ask any teacher, staff member, or bus driver to explain to you what their typical week is like. It’s not what you think you see. It’s not “Oh you just go in at 8 AM and leave at 3 PM every day and have your summers off!” If you think that’s the job then that’s part of the problem. When I was teaching senior English I once told a very bright senior that she would make a great teacher. She looked around the school in a near 360º fashion and said, “And do all of THIS? Put up with this job? No thank you.” And that’s where we are. The next generation of students as a whole have little interest in going into education. We simply won’t be able to replace those leaving the field fast enough if we don’t begin to work to change the working conditions within our schools. Our teachers and staff don’t do it for the money – they do it because they love children and they love teaching them, but collectively we as a society are killing their love for teaching. The joy is nearly gone. The demands of the pandemic aren’t the cause of the problem; it’s just moving us down the path to Stage Three at a more rapid rate. It didn’t cause the root problem – it exposed it.

And this isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national crisis issue. Collectively we have to tackle it or we will soon be in Stage Three… and that’s going to potentially cost us the future potential of our most valuable – our kids.

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