America’s kids are going back to school. Not all their teachers will join

“There were moments before that,” he said. “It just seems like the cherry on top.”

There was a lack of substitute teachers that made it difficult to take time to be there when her kids were sick. low salary lack of respect from parents and politicians; lack of resources; And, of course, the pandemic.

“Education has been under attack for quite some time,” Miller said. “The epidemic was too heavy. That was the albatross that pulled me down. And I knew I had to pivot.”

Now he is a business consultant who earns 50% more than he did as a teacher.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education says the shortage is real because of furloughs for teachers like Miller. The spokeswoman said they would need thousands of new teachers and academics in other roles over the next three years or the problem could be prolonged.

Other districts in states around the country are also scrambling to find and keep enough teachers to lead their classrooms as educators deal with burnout.

Teachers are also facing some unprecedented challenges: school board meetings that turn into chaos over Covid policies; A politicized and misinformed war on critical race theory; banning books; and calls to arm teachers in the face of gun violence.

Academics are on the front lines of these social cracks that can feel scary.

Miller said she’s not sure she’ll ever return to teaching.

“Honestly, it’s taking people like me to consider treating teachers like professionals, to restore their dignity and for the public to rally behind them,” he said.

Expect to do more without support

Teachers across the country are doing the same thing as Miller.

Last year, Alexander Calderon’s colleague suddenly resigned. Overnight, she went from seventh grade English language arts teacher to social studies teacher.

“I felt there was no support in understanding this new curriculum,” Calderon said. “I was really at my breaking point where I was thinking about leaving.”

So he opened the Notes app on his phone and started writing a list.

Job Benefits: The pay was relatively not bad; His colleagues were supportive; He wanted to be there for his students.

Disadvantages: Very little support from administration; He was working as two teachers; School morale was terrible; And he was seeing a teacher after the next vacation.

Although her cons list was a bit longer, this week Calderon began a new school year teaching both English language arts and social studies. His list is still saved on his phone.

“The kids are my number one priority,” she said. “Seeing what kids are interested in and getting to know them as people is what ultimately made me stay.”

She also said she was the only Spanish speaker on staff at her middle school. He recalls when a student — originally from Nicaragua — was admitted. He saw the boy’s mother struggling to understand the system and communicate.

“It made me think of my own mother struggling through the American education system,” she said.

Calderon came over to help. It’s another reason he won’t quit.

“I felt I was morally obligated to stay,” he said.

Teach anger, but with love

Then there are the teachers who plan to stick it out no matter what, like Eric Hale. She is a first grade teacher in the Dallas Independent School District.

In 2021, he was named Teacher of the Year for the state of Texas, the first African American person to win the honor.

“I got to meet these amazing educators who represented their states and we got to meet the president. It was a whole year-long bonding experience,” she said. “Among my crew, only myself and the Illinois state teacher are still actively in the classroom.”

He says he knows why they left.

“A lot of them, especially teachers of color, were tired of fighting a system that wasn’t necessarily designed for kids who looked like me and who I was to be successful,” she said. “They are tired of the disrespect of the profession and, more importantly, they are tired of the lack of compensation.”

But when asked if he would ever leave, Hale said no.

“Because, I’m in a position and I’m blessed to be changing the face of education,” he said.

Growing up as a black student in a poor neighborhood with no support system, Hale had no teachers who looked like him—no teachers who truly understood his needs.

“So I teach with anger. I’m chasing the ghost of the teacher I had as a child,” he said.

He remembers going to church for food because his family couldn’t always afford food. He didn’t have a support system at home, and he couldn’t find it at school either.

“I grew up in a neighborhood of abuse and trauma that was absent for generations,” she said. “So, sadly, I didn’t have a great teacher. I just had one who made a difference.”

Now, she’s that teacher every day in her first-grade classroom, where many of her students live in poverty and the school simply doesn’t get the books and equipment that public schools in affluent areas do.

“I teach in a similar neighborhood that I grew up in, and so I fight for these kids because I know the potential,” she said. “I firmly believe some brilliant minds come from dark places.”

Meanwhile, he says, he’s seeing an uproar around critical race theory across the country. He said teachers could barely afford their own curriculum, so it was ridiculous that they would spend money on college curriculum.

“They’re trying to criminalize good education,” he said.

He said it was a political weapon to stop teachers like him. Teachers who care about the race, ethnicity, and circumstances of each of their students and how to help them make connections.

“I teach every child I serve the Texas State Curriculum. I add images from that curriculum to literature and to inspire them personally that they can be a doctor, a lawyer, a novelist, a writer,” she said. “By bringing in people from the same area they’re from.”

“So I’m African American, so I have to do my research and find great leaders of Hispanic descent, because the majority of the population I serve is Hispanic. I wish someone would bring a judge to the school. I wish someone was a current congressman, A senator would bring in the mayor. … It’s a matter of representation.”

Hell is a dapper dresser: an emerald green tie, a navy blazer, complete with a bright orange pocket square. He has a DJ booth in his classroom where he plays songs he makes. Each is named for a student, with beats and melodies to suit their personality.

“Every song is special and unique, just like children,” he said. “Because I sit at home and I say, ‘Oh, man, Jaime is so active. His feet are always moving. So I love these drums. They have a little pitter patter.’ So I’m able to describe the songs to them and it makes them feel very special and it makes them feel very loved.”

It’s what he wanted as a child. That’s why Eric Hale teaches.

Jake Miller, who left teaching, said he got into teaching because of a teacher who inspired him to be the first in his family to go to college.

Alexander Calderon teaches in the public school system to be a bridge builder for students in need.

And all of them, whether they stay or leave, look to the future of education with hope.

“I have two young sons,” Miller said. “So you better believe that I’m hopeful that the education they receive will be as good, if not better, than the education I received.”

“I know there will always be teachers in the classroom who stick it out for a long time,” Calderon said.

And Hale leaves little to chance: “I pray and I write a plan. How am I going to fix this? Why wait for Superman when you’ve got a cape in the closet?”

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