The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredibly stressful and scary time for many, and for teachers, it has been no different. When the pandemic first kicked off many of us felt very grateful because at least we had jobs and could pay our bills when we knew so many in other industries were not as lucky. But as the pandemic has played out and more concerns over the economy and government budgets have been discussed, it has become clear that teachers are not immune to the financial fallout of COVID-19.
I am reading stories of teachers who were not given a contract for next year when they were expecting one, and now many districts have implemented hiring freezes. I have heard from other educators that they are seeing a decrease in their salary anywhere from 5-25% percent. Many of us teachers, myself included, were promised raises for this coming year and are now being denied them or the fate of them is unclear.
While I understand these are unprecedented times with uncertainty for many, the teaching profession has consistently been the scapegoat for budget cuts in times of crisis. During the 2008 financial crisis, many states decimated their education budgets which led to mass layoffs, hiring freezes, lowered salaries, and salary freezes which resulted in almost a decade without a raise for many teachers. These led to worsening working conditions including larger class sizes, fewer classroom resources, and less support staff. This does not even consider the many other duties on teachers’ plates, which now seemed to grow more crowded with less to show for it.
When Red for Ed gained traction, the 2008 cuts were analyzed to show that teachers were worse off in 2018 than they had been pre-recession or even immediately after. Red for Ed happened because teachers were desperate for fair compensation and demanded radical change to slow the nationwide teacher shortage. There was also a call to treat teachers as the professionals that they are which goes beyond our compensation; it means society needs to see us as qualified adults and that we should have a seat at the table when decisions are being made. Some states face bigger shortages, including my home state of Arizona, which usually has a couple of thousand unfilled teaching positions every year that never get filled. The shortage is due to many factors but a couple of the big ones are lack of appropriate pay for the education required to be a certified teacher and the worsening working conditions including increasing class sizes.
It means society needs to see us as qualified adults and that we should have a seat at the table when decisions are being made. Click To Tweet
Now in the time of this pandemic, we are seeing the fruits of the Red for Ed labor go rotten with no hope for the future. Every teacher during this pandemic had to throw away everything they had known and planned for at the very last minute and quickly adapt to the new reality of distance learning. Some teachers had as little as 24 hours to figure out what kind of academic materials to provide for students, with little or no training in distance learning. Teachers have been incredibly flexible, patient, and exhausted through the pandemic. They are reinventing the wheel constantly, responding to parents and students in the evenings and on weekends, often being micromanaged even more, and grappling with the stress of not hearing from some students at all. The worst part is, for many of us this pandemic has taken away the one thing that makes this profession something we love – seeing our students. Zoom meetings and Canvas are no replacement for the classroom interactions we have come to know and love.
Ultimately, teachers will be the ones who pay greatly for the pandemic. Besides the salary cuts that numerous teachers will be experiencing, the layoffs are incredibly concerning. States who had debilitating teacher shortages in January are now laying off a huge chunk of their teacher workforce. This will only worsen the shortage and contribute to the worsening of working conditions (i.e. even larger class sizes). Many teachers were also promised another set of raises this year and counted on that sliver of silver lining to the unfortunate realities of teaching – to see it ripped away once again.
Despite all that teachers have gone through, there are still jabs at the profession. As mentioned before, teachers have had to completely shift their mindsets to produce online learning and they have done the best they can. Teachers are creating online office hours, providing students the opportunity to video call them for one-on-one support, and going above and beyond to provide explicit instruction through detailed videos or live meetings. Yet, many parents are calling for teachers not to be paid at this time since they’re “teaching” their own child. Some made jokes about getting free food during Teacher Appreciation Week because they were “basically teachers now too.” I have even seen some demand compensation or our salaries for their home-schooling. Make no mistake, helping your own child who you love unconditionally through a science worksheet is not the same as teaching. Teachers create those materials, disseminate them in a way that students can understand, and manage large groups of students. You only have to worry about one student (again, one you love), and teachers must worry about dozens or even as many as 200 plus their own kids if they have them!
While this pandemic is scary for many families and individuals, please also think of the educators in your community. They have been given the short end of the stick for years and despite the forward movement Red for Ed gave us, we are seeing the profession slide back once again. Only this time, don’t be surprised if you see teachers strike or leave the profession en masse. Know that they have exhausted every option and know that whether they stay or leave, teachers have loved what they do enough to always fight for it.
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