#FocusDisruption is a collaboration of all the media outlets within Montclair State’s School of Communication and Media. Our goal is to report stories that highlight the effects or disruption of the last two years and the solutions that have come out of it. All aspects of day-to-day life have been altered but we will be primarily focusing on how mental health, education and the workplace have changed.
Six years ago, a piece from The Montclarion opinion section, titled “Smartening Up on the Teacher Shortage,” sounded the alarm bells on the crisis facing our education system. It highlighted its impact on New Jersey and what Montclair State University can do to help.
This issue has only gotten worse in the time since. A survey from the National Education Association (NEA) in January stated that 74% of members have had to take on extra duties due to shortages, and 90% of members say feeling burnt out is a serious problem.
A problem of this magnitude prompts two important questions: firstly, what are the causes of the shortages in our education system, and, identifying these, what can we do to resolve them?
Along with burnout, the NEA poll has teachers identifying general coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic stress (91%), student absences (85%), increased workloads (80%), low pay (78%), student behavior (76%) and a lack of respect from parents and the general public (76%) as the most serious issues facing teachers.
It is important to note that the two most important issues are rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic.
If we are to finally “round the corner,” student absences due to COVID-19 would be nonexistent, and teacher stress from exposure to the disease would be relieved as well.
Other problems are more nuanced, though most have roots in the aforementioned lack of respect educators receive. After all, local citizens elect the members of local government that determine pay and funding, and often, little care is given to these elections.
What care is given can often do more harm to teachers than good, as seen with recent proposals to put cameras in classrooms, as well as bans on novels such as “Maus” in Mcminn County, Tennessee, or any number of LGBTQ or African American works in conservative areas.
These moves to monitor content harm both teachers and students, adding stress to an already stressful job. Educators are forced to self-censor themselves to fit these flawed notions of what should be taught in school, and students are stripped of any and all privacy.
Related to these same woes from locally-elected offices are issues of funding. Many schools can hardly afford to feed their students or obtain basic supplies, let alone things such as a dedicated mental health counselor.
When a school fails to provide these things, it falls upon the shoulders of a teacher. Educators are forced to provide supplies for students to help them through tough times in their life, burdening them even further.
Despite all this, teachers do not receive the time they desperately need for themselves. Alone time during a school day is essentially non-existent, as is paid maternity leave.
Our attitudes, both toward those teaching in our school systems and the government officials that legislate these schools, are in desperate need of an overhaul.
Anger towards our school system should be funneled into the elections that determine the officials who have the power to change this flawed system.
School board elections, especially in New Jersey, face little to no contention, given how every board represents one municipality. This means the officials in small towns such as my own can be elected for years and years, facing no opposition to their lack of accomplishment.
Some states, such as Maryland, give students a voice in their education by allowing them to elect an official to serve on the board, providing a platform desperately needed for some of those most impacted by the decisions of the board.
The attitude toward teachers needs to change as well. They are just people, and they get stressed, tired and burnt out, yet our education system acts as though they are robots, saddling them with seemingly endless responsibilities.
In time, perhaps the system will improve, but it is no guarantee. It starts with people now paying attention to their local school and taking action, slowly but surely.
As President Lyndon Johnson, himself a former teacher, stated, “We believe, that is, you and I, that education is not an expense. We believe it is an investment.”