Editorial: Despite hassles posed by the pandemic, we need good teachers more than ever
Ask a group of good teachers what moves them, what keeps them interested, what keeps them evolving.
It won't take long before "joy" enters that list.
Teachers thrive on the joy they get from getting through to a child, from seeing them dream and then achieve those dreams. From seeing children become productive, happy adults.
Joy in the teaching arena has been in short supply for the past couple of years with the rigmarole the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought.
Uncertainty over whether to teach in-class or remotely, changing course on a dime, hybrid scheduling, quarantine protocols, social distancing, classroom disinfection, attention-keeping, burnout, angry parents. The drawbacks are endless.
For some teachers it's become all too much. And that's understandable. Some have opted to retire, some to move to less volatile jobs.
Couple that with a yearslong trend of fewer college students entering the field and you have a shortage of teachers -- when we need those who inspire our children the most.
It's worsened by a lack of qualified substitute teachers. Many suburban school districts have resorted to raising daily rates considerably, and they still have trouble filling holes.
Results of a fall 2021 survey conducted for the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools included responses from 663 of Illinois' 852 public school districts.
Some 88% of respondents said they didn't have enough full-time teachers; 96% reported being short of substitutes.
While many parents worry about the value of an education provided on a Chromebook from a child's bedroom, the larger matter of concern is whether there are teachers to instruct them at all.
We are better off in our corner of the state, but still 79% of schools in the northeastern region of Illinois report being understaffed. And most of them said the shortage is worsening.
Kathi Griffin is president of the Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. She said the pandemic has accelerated the teacher shortage.
"I don't think that the general public realizes the stress, as well as what is being expected of educators," she said. "It's like, OK, we went back in the fall, and the doors opened, and magically everything was supposed to go back to how it was from March of 2020. And that's just not realistic."
As suburbanites, one of our greatest assets has been a quality education. In order to preserve that, it behooves us all to avoid heaping our frustrations on teachers.
For those teachers who witness the spark now and then, the joy remains. It just could be harder to find.
Don't lose faith in the incredibly important work you do.