It will take more than money to keep Wisconsin’s best teachers in the classroom.
They need respect as professionals. They need control over their classrooms. They need students to put away their cell phones.
Greater cooperation and involvement of parents would surely help as well.
With school starting in much of Wisconsin this week, we all have a role to play in improving public education, especially with so many open teaching positions. Madison still had about 120 open teaching positions, the district reported Friday. The shortage of workers in most of the economy has hit public education hard.
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And no wonder. This is not an easy job, especially after the pandemic kept so many students away from in-person classes for too long, especially in Madison. That has exacerbated mental health and behavioral problems, child psychologists say, while limiting learning. Many students fell behind and spent too much time on digital devices at home, developing bad habits.
Teachers face enormous challenges and distractions when classes begin. COVID is still looming, with fears of new strains emerging. Worst of all, grueling political debates have focused on public education, including wild accusations of indoctrination and demands to ban books. It has to end.
Public workers in Wisconsin, including many teachers, are leaving their jobs at the highest rates in decades, according to a report by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum last week. More public employees have left in the past two years than after the passage a decade ago of Act 10, former Gov. Scott Walker’s strict and divisive limits on unions.
Significantly more teachers are resigning not because they are aging and retiring, but because of burnout, the report suggests.
Money, of course, is a factor. Many districts have approved salary increases of 4.7%, the maximum allowed under the inflation caps of Law 10 in salary negotiations. (The Madison School Board approved a 3% base salary increase in July. However, Madison is one of the few districts in the state that still gives teachers additional raises for longevity and advanced degrees. Those raises average about 2%, which puts many of Madison’s teachers on par, if not ahead of their peers.)
However, the vast majority of teachers did not enter their profession to earn a lot of money or to have their summers off. They teach because they want to inspire young people to succeed. That is his passion.
COVID severely disrupted her face-to-face interactions with students, many of whom are restless and harder to reach.
Providing more stability for everyone in school buildings will surely help. Wisconsin should keep its schools open and allow teachers to choose to teach without masks, which can be awkward and make communication difficult.
Removing a single police officer from each of Madison’s four main high schools has not improved student behavior or school safety. Instead, outside officers who don’t know the students have had to respond to almost daily calls for help, creating more potential for conflict and misunderstanding. Madison should reconsider that decision.
School districts can do their teachers a big favor this fall by adopting clear and effective bans on cell phone use by students during class. Devices have become a chronic barrier to learning. Madison seems to be moving in the right direction.
Too many teachers are being disrespected by a vocal minority. Some parents and politicians have scrutinized teachers’ lesson plans for offense. Teachers have sometimes been unfairly criticized for policies they did not adopt and may not even agree with. School boards and local administrators make the important decisions.
Also, the remaining teachers don’t get as much help because support staff are in short supply. That makes it more difficult to provide individual care to the young people who need it most.
School districts need to be more creative in attracting young educators while maintaining the enthusiasm and improvement of existing staff. A lot of effort is already being made on that.
Lowering standards for teaching is definitely not the answer. Wisconsin must avoid Florida’s folly of filling classrooms with current and former military personnel who have not been trained to effectively engage and teach students.
Here’s a final suggestion, something we can all do: Tell a teacher how much you appreciate them. Be specific, especially if that teacher is teaching your student and you are happy with the job he or she is doing. More respect and support for his hard work is key to keeping talented people in front of our children.