Dealing with the School Staff Shortage
K-12 public schools throughout the U.S. are facing staff shortages so severe that school days are being canceled. Seattle, Boulder, and Portland, Oregon are just a few examples of districts without adequate staff to maintain daily operations following Veteran’s Day. Claiming exhaustion, hundreds of teachers in these cities opted to take the day off in order to have a four-day weekend. Denver Public Schools’ situation is even more dire. The district moved to remote learning for three days in mid-November, canceled school on November 19 as a mental health day, and took a full week off for Thanksgiving.
The school staff shortages and well-being crisis of both teachers and students can be traced to the left-wing priorities and policies of the teacher unions and politicians who run these cities. Most egregious was the shuttering of schools closed for more than one calendar year, which kept teachers pinned behind screens and distanced from their students. It not only took the passion out of teaching for many teachers, but it also overwhelmed many educators whose limited technical skills were insufficient for the remote learning environment.
Fearmongering by teacher unions and Democrat political leaders also caused many employees distress regarding returning to school and triggered some to quit. Despite the harm they personally experienced and witnessed in their students, many teachers supported keeping schools closed due to an exaggerated fear of COVID and loyalty to their union and political leaders. Furthermore, despite seeing their students slip behind academically (especially those of minority ethnic groups and low-income families), they played puppet to political narratives that often clashed with the data and even common sense. The unwarranted duration of public-school closures during the 2020-2021 school year -- which occurred even while private schools operated fully -- was detrimental to students, despite the public rhetoric of Democrat leaders and teacher unions about how much they cared.
When school doors were finally opened, the left and teacher unions in many states demanded the masking of students for the full duration of the school day, even between bites and slurps in the school cafeteria. This despite the data indicating that students are at very low risk from COVID-19. And the mandates didn’t stop with masking. They expanded to require teacher and staff vaccinations as a condition for maintaining employment. And now the mandates are moving toward a requirement for children as young as five to be vaccinated as a prerequisite for attending public school in person.
The emotional toll has been devastating. The school experience is largely devoid of excitement and energy by either students or school staff. Even receiving a smile from a teacher or a peer is a thing of the past, as masks block these vital human connections. Human interactions such as high-fives, handshakes, and hugs have been eliminated in the name of safety. Combine the inhibiting of non-verbal communication with a hyper-focus on maintaining physical distance from others, there’s no doubt that staff feels stressed, and students feel high levels of isolation and loneliness. Tragically, the resulting student depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicides are at new all-time highs but are largely ignored. Alas, we’ve traded a serious though manageable disease for a mental health epidemic of our children and adolescents.
In addition, the wave of teachers getting fired for not getting vaccinated has made the school staffing shortage worse. Moving to remote learning and canceling school days due to a lack of personnel will only set our students further back academically and in regard to their well-being. For some students, their time at school provides food they would otherwise not receive, and a safe haven from abuse.
But the harm isn’t limited to the COVID reaction. With the widespread promotion of gender redefinition and self-selection in K-12 schools, students are prompted to question their own identity starting at age five. The narrative is promoted and reinforced through multiple avenues -- such as the gender unicorn and the encouragement for youth to select bathrooms, locker rooms, athletic teams, and even pronouns that differ from their biological sex. In many cases, the damage is irreversible, for example, after hormone treatment and sex-change surgeries.
Additionally, the divisive ideology of Critical Race Theory (CRT) pits students against one another. Without consideration given to their individual actions and attitudes, CRT teaches white students that they are by nature oppressors and are responsible for the sins of past generations. On the other hand, Black students are labeled as oppressed, creating a helpless victim mentality and removing individual responsibility. These caustic CRT principles further exasperate the achievement gap between Asian and white students from that of Hispanic and black students. Contrary to the narrative that all our institutions are systemically and irredeemably racist, the reality is that what is racist is labeling people solely on their skin color.
School can and should contribute positively to a student’s well-being -- now and in the future. The more schools lose staff, cancel school days, and are off the rails regarding requirements and teaching content, the less successful they will serve students.
The war on school choice is another area in which the left and teacher unions cause harm to the interest of students and their families. Their opposition to educational freedom seems to know no bounds, whether within the public system through charter schools, magnet schools, and open enrollment allowances, or outside the public system through private school or homeschool funding. Despite their cry for “equity,” the left and teacher unions go to great lengths to ensure students (largely “minority” students) are given no opportunity to escape from their failing schools. Their underlying motives are maintaining money and control.
Across the nation, parents are becoming increasingly aware and, in turn, are speaking up on behalf of their children. The recent gubernatorial race results in Virginia singled that enough voters are fed up with political agendas of the left and teacher unions that don’t produce positive results for students.
Regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic level, our students deserve equal opportunity to receive a quality K-12 in a nurturing environment. That environment will be void of student isolation, fear, confusion, and divisiveness, characterizing today’s public-school classrooms.
Dr. Keri D. Ingraham is a Fellow at Discovery Institute and Director of the Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education.
To comment, you can find the MeWe post for this article here.