By Ariama C. Long
September’s coming––and school will soon be underway.
In New York City, the 2022-2023 school year is about to start for teachers who potentially will face another year of school budget cuts, large class sizes, staffing shortages and––in many places––newly minted, first-year teachers. Teacher burnout among K-12 educators led to a wave of resignations at the end of the last school year. And then the city’s education budget cuts meant some schools could no longer afford some of its teaching professionals and had to get rid of extracurricular programming offerings.
This year will see fledgling teachers entering schools with students who will need extra support. The unknown quantity during this upcoming school term can be anxiety causing: particularly with another new round of state-issued COVID-19 guidances to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Mask mandates are gone, COVID-19 testing of students will be limited, and the city is still battling a monkeypox outbreak.
With all this, veteran teachers will once again be asked to help students combat learning loss, while maintaining a sane head space for themselves.
“We have spent months, months working on the teacher shortage and making long term and short-term proposals,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), told the AmNews when asked what the AFT is doing to support its members this coming school year: “The No. 1 thing that we can do, that doesn’t cost a dime, is to advocate for the respect and dignity that educators need to help kids and that is part of what we are doing in this ‘What Kids Need’ campaign that we have launched.”
The AFT’s “What Kids and Communities Need” campaign is the union’s back-to-school effort for 2022: the union wants to push the Democrat Party “to recapture the debate around education” by focusing on “classroom initiatives, educator supports, and school-based enrichment programs that help kids and communities succeed in the long term.”
“What Kids and Communities Need” plans on awarding $1.5 million in grants to parents and teachers for community engagement; it wants commonsense policies to address the teacher shortage; an increase in the number of community schools over the next five years; and to encourage kids to read more and improve their reading skills through its “Reading Opens the World” one million book giveaway campaign.
Weingarten added: “We need to actually raise salaries, we need better conditions, we need to increase community schools. And what the union itself is doing is we’re fighting for teachers to be able to teach honest history; we have a legal defense that is helping people if the management of a school system tries to ban books or circumscribe the curriculum. We’ve said that if somebody is acting in the best interest of children, we’re going to try to help them.”
Most kids returning to school this year struggled to learn during the pandemic––especially in the spring of 2020, when school buildings initially shut down and thousands were forced to resort to virtual instruction.
“The kids that I’m having here for Algebra 2,” Dallas, Texas-based Algebra teacher Rosie Curts told the AmNews, “are the kids who were in Algebra 1 during the year that we were virtual and of course that means that their learning was probably not as good as it would have been in person. There’s a lot more to read––we need to review and catch up on a little bit more Algebra 1 concepts.”
Curts has been teaching for seven years now; she saw other teachers leave the profession because of the stresses of the pandemic and the consequent attacks teaching professionals have faced since then.
But Curts says she remains focused: “Mainly I think the thing that keeps me in [education] is feeling like, you know, the future of our students and of our profession and of public education/public service is something that I really, really want to fight for.
“I know I’m probably sounding like I’m just a commercial ad for the union––they didn’t tell me to say this, but I feel like being involved with the union is what helps me keep my energy up and my attitude up because it’s important to know that, like, when you’re frustrated with what’s happened in the district, that you have some avenue through which you can work to change it.
“As long as I feel like I can maybe someday change the system that is frustrating me so much, then that makes it worth it to stick around and keep going.”
“Our members, they’re used to shouldering more and more responsibilities,” Weingarten confessed. “The real issue becomes when will respect start and getting teachers what they need to help kids start?
“Here’s a perfect example,” Weingarten continued: “In New York City lowering class size would be a way of helping teachers help kids and shoulder the responsibilities that we have in a much more effective way. But you know as well as I do the problems in the debate about class size in New York. You have a piece of legislation [A10498, a bill to shrink class sizes] sitting right on Gov. Hochuls’ desk that she should sign because New York City’s class sizes are the highest around the state. And, you know, the mayor has fought against it: the mayor sought to have budget cuts this year when the American Rescue Plan law was about dealing with all of these exigencies. You don’t have budget cuts as the issue anywhere else in the country, but you have budget cuts as the issue in New York City.”
Budget cuts. Staff shortages. A decrease of program offerings for students. Each of these is going to be a major hurdle for schools to deal with this academic year. And through it all, organizations like the New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT) are predicting that the state will face an ever-decreasing number of teachers for years to come; the NYSUT says it expects some 87,314 teaching professionals to retire from education within the next five years.
This post was originally published on New York Amsterdam News.