I went to a job fair this weekend to showcase our school. We have a wonderful staff, serve amazing students, and have fabulous families. We get to work with gifted kids, an underserved population. Our work is not easy, but it’s rewarding beyond measure, and those of us who have chosen to be there are there for good reasons and believe in the work we get to do every day. Life happens, and sometimes people need to make choices that take them away from our community, but even when we aren’t looking to fill positions, we want to be sure that people know who we are at fairs like this, at conferences, at networking events, and out in the greater community too.
The group hosting the fair was honest with all of us who were going to attend. There would be almost a hundred schools for less than half of the number of teachers that they would see at a job fair pre-pandemic. I arrived before most representatives, but those there before me were setting up, ready to grip and grin with bells on, sharing how wonderful it is to work with them, the focus of their school, their community, and how they could help a teacher grow. We had a prime spot, visible just as teachers walked through the door. Some tables would remain empty, other things likely taking priority so they couldn’t make it. The energy in the room was mixed: excited and hopeful…worried and anxious at the same time.
I remembered the last job fair I represented us. The job-seekers came in droves and there was a constant chatter all day between seekers and finders. Teachers stopped at many tables to see where they might want to teach–they dropped resumes, sold themselves, shared their hope for the future. They were young, bright-eyed, and excited to begin the next part of their professional lives.
This year it was different. Schools posted their open positions on boards at their tables. Many sought classroom teachers, others specialists, and still others a variety of interventionist-based positions. I glanced at my watch when the doors were to open to allow job-seekers in, and no one came through the door save six high school students helping to support those of us at the fair.
Gradually, a few teachers trickled in, and most were older, with years of experience. Most bypassed me because of where our school is located–no one wants to relocate because they have spouses, children, and mortgages. The few who stopped were looking for very specialized positions: English teacher for AP courses only, high school STEM with a focus on pre-engineering courses, music, but with a flexible schedule that allowed them to teach when they liked and didn’t require extra duties like lunch or recess coverage or the requirement that they attend staff meetings or parent conferences. They said they wanted to be where their talents were honored and respected and where no one would ask them to do more than what their professional plan called for: teach. One asked about administrative support for teachers. They said they expected to have an administrative assistant–they’d had one paid for with ESSER dollars and now were seeking a school that would guarantee that for them even after ESSER dollars are spent.
One was graduating in May: a new teacher. Very anxious, but also very hopeful. They wanted a promise that they would not have active shooter drills or have students who needed behavioral support–they had kids in their student teaching who needed 1-1 support and wanted guarantees that they wouldn’t have that experience again. They wanted to teach the kids they read about in books–Mrs. Frizzle’s class–who were excited to learn and who didn’t cause problems in class. They asked about curriculum: they wanted complete autonomy as to what they taught and had some neat ideas, and in the same breath wanted all the materials handed to them, so they didn’t have to plan. They asked about our class size–22 and 23 is too many–they were looking for a max of 12-15 per teacher. They asked about the pay: they heard that new teachers are now starting at $60-70K a year and at 23, should surely be making more than that to start–they’d worked in child care in college so had experience already. Um, no.
I talked to people from the group that organized the fair. They were disappointed in the turnout, though they weren’t surprised. They’d been honest with all of us with the number of possible applicants vs the number of schools coming. Fewer than half of those who had signed up to drop resumes or interview even bothered to come. We talked about teachers who have left the profession, the expectations we’d overheard in conversations between applicants and school representatives, and what the teaching programs were seeing–fewer enrolling to start with and many quitting before they’d even started. Kids of all ages hear what adults say…and some choose to leave a profession before their career has even started because of what they hear from the public.
We talked about how to sell teaching as a great choice for a profession. We talked about education needing to change and shift with the needs our students and their families experience now. We talked about how charter schools have a bit more room to innovate, but how they’re still bound by all the same rules as a traditional school in a big district. We talked about funding, and the continued lack of it, and the ongoing pressure to do more with less while watching the legislature debate whether or not schools should be given the money they need to do the work or whether adequate funding should be withheld until educators bend to the will of the politicians and specific groups who want school to eliminate anything that doesn’t fall into their bucket of preferences.
Teachers were lauded as heroes for a little while not so long ago and everyone would say that it’s nice to be appreciated. Pandemic teaching came with lots of thank yous.
The public saw what they thought school looked like and sounded like in boxes on a computer screen. And after the crisis passed a little bit, they got scared that what they saw on Zoom was really what school was like now and much of the political fervor around education reform stems from those fears. (spoiler alert: That isn’t what school is like and never was. Pandemic teaching was a response to a crisis and was messy, painful, and attempted to keep a semblance of normalcy where none could have possibly existed.)
Educators everywhere are disillusioned, angry, and sad. There’s a comedy show touring comprised of teachers who left the profession who tell horror stories of situations they endured at the hands of their administrators, their districts, the families they served. We laugh, but we know that they aren’t lying about what they experienced because on some level, all of us have had a similar experience or two. Teachers are being told by politicians and conservative groups that they aren’t allowed to share books with students because books encourage learning and thinking about things that those groups don’t agree with. They disagree with stories that share concepts like kindness, community, support of others, diversity of background, different belief systems, as well as those that tell the stories of actual historical events…all of those are targets for those demanding books be removed from classrooms and libraries. Teachers are still told in 2023 that they aren’t allowed to be out in the community after dark, must be seen at church every week, can’t be seen in restaurants that serve alcohol (whether they’re drinking or not), and can’t have side jobs or side hustles–someone is bound to be offended whether they’re teaching fitness classes at a gym on weekends or tutoring kids who need some extra support. And heaven forbid they’re seen in a library with a book in their hand. They might be fired on the spot and run out of town.
And the media frenzy around people who do horrible things to kids is non-stop…and the media is sure to point out that those people called themselves teachers.
So yeah, there’s a shortage of teachers. And those who remain are doing everything they can to provide a good, solid education for the kids who turn up in their classrooms every day. In many schools, administrators who began as teachers are going back to their roots to teach in the classroom too–maybe to cover for someone who is out, perhaps one class, maybe full days, but they’re right there…
Educators who serve kids do all the things in their job descriptions and then some every day. And they have hope that the kids we’re serving right now will be the ones who grow up and make our educational system what it should be: a system in which kids get what they need to be able to learn and grow and think critically about the world and all that goes on in it so that they can go off into it to do good.
That’s a big part of why we do this work. We need more good people willing to do this work while those of us currently in it try to make it a better profession for all of us, now and in the future.