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Creating a will in the way of a teacher shortage

Education and the professionals that occupy the jobs within the system spend their careers affecting and shaping the lives of children. For generations, the profession has been admired and seen as a valuable position but every year, less and less people are entering the field.

The number of people studying the discipline of education has been declining for decades, but now more than ever, teachers are leaving the system. In Georgia, officials are rolling out incentives for retired teachers and hiring non-certified teachers to fill classrooms. Nationally, there is a need for nearly 300,000 teachers according to the National Education Association.

A few teachers may be losing faith in the system, but there are still some that are hopeful. In 2020, the Pew Research Center found that over 85,000 college students graduated with a degree in education. While that number may not fill all of the vacancies that public schools have, there are college students – like Jayden Braxton – being trained and prepared to teach post-graduation.

“Because of the teacher shortage, I think when it comes to students, they have less sense of security because they have a teacher today and a new teacher next week.” said Braxton.

Although teachers' well-being, mental health and overall happiness is important, the children are the people who suffer the most from the shortage and it’s been Braxton’s biggest concern.

Braxton, 22, is a fourth year student at the University of Georgia. He will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in social studies education this spring and intends to teach various social studies courses to high school students upon graduation. In order to be well versed in his subject matter, Braxton must complete a number of tasks outside of his coursework, including but not limited to, student teaching.

Student teaching is a large task for college students to undertake as this is the first time they have to take on the responsibility of a classroom, students and lessons. While his peers studying other subjects get a few extra hours of rest, Braxton must rise before dawn begins to think about cracking.

His alarm rings at 4:45 a.m. every single morning. An early start for most, but for Braxton, a necessity. Leaving his home at 5:30 a.m., he begins his hour-long commute to Berkmar High School. After trekking from Athens, GA to Lilburn, GA, he must pull together his materials for the day as school starts at 7 a.m.

He then teaches World History to students until the school day ends at 2:10 p.m. But before he can begin his journey back to Athens, he must take time to prepare lessons for the next day, attend meetings and receive feedback from his mentor teacher. He does this every single day as he has hopes of securing a job as a full-time teacher in August.

After he has completed his student teaching for the day, he has conferences with professors and student organization meetings that he must lead. After those duties are executed, he drives for Instacart, delivering groceries, as the aforementioned responsibilities do not pay him for his time, effort or energy.

Braxton tries to be home by 8 p.m. at the latest – almost 15 hours since he left his home at 5:30 a.m. Although he arrives at home, his work is not done. If the work he intended to complete at school is not finished, he must take the time to be ready for the next day.

“I try to rest as much as I can,” said Braxton.

He describes his student teaching experience as intensive as he takes on 50% of his mentor teacher’s workload and teaches three classes a day – all while still attending his own classes as a student.

Through his student teaching program, he has received hands-on experience by teaching lessons and caring for students. While he has learned so much, he understands just what he is walking into once he graduates – a system that desperately needs him.

Sonia Janis, who has a doctorate in education and is a clinical associate professor of education, makes it clear that the teacher shortage is not because of the students.

“The kids are not the problem, the problem is the working conditions, the lack of leadership, the lack of finances and funding for schools,” said Janis.

Leaders in education, like administrators, have a hard task of leading their school and being sure that their vision trickles down to the teachers, then to the students – but this can be difficult when they have no idea if the teachers they have hired will want to continue teaching by the end of the school year.

Keith Racine, principal at New Manchester Elementary School in Douglasville, GA, wants to be sure that his team of teachers understand the role they play.

“The people that we interview, they would probably come in and they put their best foot forward, but once they get here, it's a whole different ball-game.” said Racine.

Although he believes in their potential, he expects results, “That’s when the work starts. Making sure some of the qualities that we would observe and would want – we continue to feed off of that and just push, and just don’t allow mediocrity to set in,” he added.

Principals all over the country expect the best from their teachers, pushing them to perform at their highest for their students every single day. Teachers understand the pressure, but do they all have the support to achieve the objectives?

Even in his short time in the school system, Braxton identifies problems that he and his fellow teachers have to face when working with their bosses.

He stated, “Behavior [from students] wouldn’t be such an issue, if they felt supported by administration.”

As Janis said, the lack of leadership is one of the colossal issues that teachers are suffering under but Braxton seems to understand both sides of the struggle,

“Parents – the younger generations like Gen Z – they are demanding different stuff in the way discipline and consequences are thought of,” Braxton stated.

Administrators and teachers alike may not know how to approach the situation anymore.

“Them [administrators] being scared of parents, which the central office is scared of parents, which the state department of education is also scared of parents, so that now being a part of the equation, I think, is really delegitimizing the whole system,” he added.

Parents are just one concern that educators battle with but Braxton has others. Granted, he is receiving a great education from his college in which it prepares him to be the best teacher he could possibly be, but he expresses that he still has fears for when he teaches in his own classroom.

As he will be teaching social studies, he wants to be trusted that he is an expert in his subject area. Some of the topics that arise out of the social studies discussions can be controversial – especially when talking about history here in the United States.

“We are here to teach,” said Braxton.

He understands that parental input and involvement is important but wants it to be understood that he can be trusted to provide a safe environment in which students can learn truthful information. In addition to being sure he teaches historically accurate material, Braxton has concerns for his students and their trust in the education system.

“Some of my students are not trying, and some of them are getting to the point where they’re starting to not try,” said Braxton.

When being assigned a school for his student teaching program – and as he applies for full-time jobs – it is essential to him that he works with minority students. Unfortunately, resources for schools that have large minority demographics are scarce and Braxton feels his students can recognize this.

Despite the lack of resources, Braxton tries to inspire his students to push harder and often has to remind them, “You are not dumb. Your grade reflects your effort and you’re not trying.”

As his experience with student teaching advances, he notices more and more the instability the students experience due to the teacher shortage, leading to their feelings of inadequacy. Braxton stated that some of his students have classes that have not had a full teacher at all this school year,

“I think that goes into their apathy towards school and learning and it’s really kind of sad to see,” said Braxton.

The learning environments that today’s students are in cannot compare to those from even five years ago. Because of the shortage, school systems across the country have had to resort to other options in order to fill the classrooms – including allowing non-certified people to teach. There are a few programs in which individuals can teach and earn their certification along the way but those who have been educators for multiple years don’t see this ending well for students.

Tanyia Clagette, Assistant Principal at New Manchester Elementary School, stated, “Our students are suffering. They are suffering because teachers are not trained properly.”

Clagette feels those who pursue education as second careers don’t receive the same training.

“Their training is usually job embedded which takes longer to see the results. Therefore the growth of students is delayed.” she added.

While Braxton will be a completely certified teacher upon his May 2023 graduation, he still feels the pressure to step up to the plate and provide the education his students need and deserve while taking care of himself to ensure longevity in his career.

“If it’s not in my calendar, it’s not getting done,” Braxton stated.

Although, said facetiously, a well organized work-life balance may be the key to endurance in this career and recognizing an emotionally healthy and happy “Mr. Braxton” allows for his students to thrive.

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