Note: This post first appeared on my teaching blog a week ago, but I felt strongly enough to seek a wider audience for these thoughts. Apologies to anyone who follows me both places.
I lost another colleague yesterday. Thankfully not to death (though I worry about this daily now), but to retirement. That makes three already this year and I don't blame them a bit. I've looked at retirement myself, though it's complicated for me because I don't have the optimum number of years (having spread my career across four states) to get full benefits yet and I'm too young. The calculus of life vs. livelihood is complex when you have others to support by your work.
Besides the three who retired, I know of one who is leaving the profession and another seeking a transfer, in hopes that another school will value her work and treat her better. I've thought about both of those options, too. I love teaching, but I also love being able to protect myself and those I love from infection and death.
Lots of us are in the crisis decision moment right now, as our district is sending staff back to the buildings on Monday and students back in January (don't get me started on the lack of faith in us this shows). I expect to see more and more talented educators making the hard choice to leave the work they love.
I keep getting messages from my district, my state, and my country playing lip service to the idea that they value teachers. But I don't see it. Saying thank you is easy; showing actual support and appreciation is much more difficult.
If we were valued, our voices would be at the forefront of conversations about how to handle education under the current crisis. Instead, there's barely even performative attempts to include teachers--the workers with the most expertise and most at risk--in the conversation at all.
I fill out all the surveys I am sent and participate in all the meetings, but there's no evidence so far that it is worth my time. The results send a clear message, one that is ignored in favor of what's easier for the institution. Though we allow our students' families to choose to stay home and continue virtual education, teachers will not be afforded the same right, even though we are more at risk than our students, especially the veterans. You don't become an experienced teacher without getting old, and you rarely get old without developing some underlying conditions that put you at additional risk.
If we were valued, the communication from above would show that those above me in the hierarchy know what I am doing and are looking for ways to make it easier and more sustainable. Even though I work in a small school district, where you would think it would be easier to keep track of who is here and what we're doing, there's little sign that anyone who isn't a direct parallel colleague understands what I actually do. It's like being a baker whose supervisor last used an oven when you had to stoke an actual fire inside to bake.
And this is America, after all, so if we were valued, our country would put their money where their mouth is. Money would have flowed towards resources to make safe education from home tenable--providing infrastructure and tools as well as paying attractive salaries to bring our country's brightest and best to the fight. Internet access would have become free and fast for any household with a student in it. You can always tell what a capitalist REALLY values, by looking at the bottom line, and education is far too near the bottom across the board.
So, thanks for saying you value me and my work. But if you really do, then prove it.