It’s not just new graduates who are streaming out into the real world at the end of this school year. In what anecdotally seems to be surprising numbers, teachers are leaving as well.
Retirement provides many allures, of course. As public employees, most teachers have lucrative retirement options available to them. But there may be more to the current exodus from education than a mere cashing in on government largess.
The past 14 months have been extremely trying for everyone. Most teachers didn’t lose their jobs or businesses the way some did, but many of them lost their zeal for a calling that isn’t often understood as such.
One of the best-kept secrets of COVID-19 is how poorly students learned during various periods of remote instruction. Many teachers tried very hard to preserve educational standards. Many others did not. Yet throughout it all, the only voices commenting on education were those praising it for managing to adapt.
Get any teacher at any level to talk candidly about what happened with his or her students in the past few months and you’ll hear horror stories about how instruction was scaled back, grading was made overly generous, and individual help that some students desperately needed was difficult if not impossible to provide.
Administrators rushed to announce how everything worked beautifully. Politicians and parents didn’t seem to care as long as schools provided what essentially was day care. Less dedicated teachers resigned themselves to lowered expectations, but those who regard teaching as a calling did not. Their often heroic efforts going largely unnoticed made government largess at the end of the retirement rainbow look even more attractive.
It’s bad enough that substantial forces in society routinely denigrate education, deny scientific facts, and whittle away at financial support, especially for colleges and universities.
Watching grades inflate and honor rolls swell to encompass more and more students made many teachers wonder whether their work actually made a difference or whether Garrison Keillor’s line about all students being above average was now an official mandate, spurred on by parental pressure.
Making higher learning so expensive that average students can’t afford it unless they have some athletic skill that could lead to a scholarship merely worsened the situation.
COVID-19 has left millions of students with huge educational deficits. Classes in which they were expected to learn about material needed for subsequent classes didn’t get around to covering those topics. Grades and standardized test scores are so messed up they no longer help students determine what level they should start with as they enroll in college. Even as it’s clear not all students need to go to college, budgets for some vocational programs in high schools have been cut while budgets for meaningless feel-good niceties swell.
The months and years ahead are fraught with serious challenges as we attempt to overcome the educational deficits created by COVID-19. It’s too bad so many of our best teachers won’t be available to help.
— ERIC MEYER