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All Americans have a stake in a vibrant, strong and innovative system of public education. So a recent nationwide in-depth report published by CNHI News on teachers leaving the profession should be a warning sign that all is not well in the classroom.

CNHI News had reporters studied public education across the country. Their report showed a significant exodus of teachers from the classroom, leading to teaching shortages and resulting damage to education overall. The shortage threatens quality education, one of the pillars of a representative democracy.

Nationwide, the number of public school teachers declined 8% in 2021 compared to 2019, with some 233,000 teachers leaving. The report showed teachers left for a variety of reasons including low pay, lack of respect, overwhelming responsibilities, political fights over such issues equity and diversity, lack of discipline by schools and lack of support from parents and elected leaders.

Half of all public schools had an average of three vacancies due to lack of qualified candidates and problems with pay and benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Public education has become so much a part of everyday life, we come to take it for granted. But we ignore its problems at our peril.

Most teachers go into the profession for the love of education and imparting it to young people. They’re not there for the money. The report showed teachers make less than other similarly educated people going into other professions. So that teachers are leaving in high numbers shows the education infrastructure itself is in decline.

But the role of the teacher in our system of public education and in our democracy has never been more important. An increasingly complex set of world problems from racial and cultural divides to climate change requires students be well equipped and educated to take on these challenges.

Schools must make strategic plans to retain teachers. Elected leaders need to support those plans with funding and training.

Several teachers in the report lamented that education has become a kind of rote routine to teach to the test, with critical and creative thinking lower priorities. Achieving and measuring basic competencies should be part of the plan but should not overwhelm precious time needed to engage in fact-finding and problem solving.

Other teachers became frustrated by the constant “policing” of their teaching methods and lesson plans. Indeed, at school boards across the country teachers have been under fire for teaching diversity in what some wrongly describe as critical race theory. At the other end, the students have disrupted the classroom as discipline falters.

Teachers are stuck in the middle of groups of stakeholders each offering their self-interested pressure points while being asked to magically shape well-rounded intelligent students who can make positive contributions to society.

But the infrastructure that is public education needs support from parents, school boards and the community at large. Everyone has a stake in a well-educated population. Teachers are at the heart of that infrastructure and they must be supported.

Without teachers there is no education.

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