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Title:Policy Spotlight: An Unfolding Crisis in the Satisfaction and Supply of Teachers in Illinois
Author(s):Kessler, Meghan A.
Abstract:During the COVID-19 pandemic, the professional realities of teachers were upended to a degree experienced by few other professionals. Yet, the importance of high-quality, well-supported teachers was never more apparent. This Policy Spotlight contextualizes the professional and personal challenges experienced by K-12 educators during the COVID-19 pandemic within the policy issue of the ongoing Illinois teacher shortage. Drawing from a qualitative study of Illinois teachers’ well-being and professional efficacy during the pandemic, the Policy Spotlight provides specific examples of the intensified challenges teachers faced during the Summer and Fall of 2020. These included pandemic-induced threats to their or their families’ health, safety, and financial stability. Further, teachers reported deep concern for the safety and well-being of their students, some of whom they feared were caught in situations of adversity or trauma. Teachers also shared concern that the urgent transition to remote or blended learning disrupted their successful routines and threatened their sense of professional efficacy. Despite the best efforts of school leaders, many teachers were not supplied with the appropriate resources or support to transition modalities. Although educators, administrators, and school personnel across the state worked hard to plan and implement schooling that best responded to the needs of families and communities, numerous challenges, fears, and concerns persisted. These fears and challenges carried the potential to lead to increased teacher attrition. To stave off or lessen severe teacher shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the author argues for the revitalization of policy and community supports that would enable teacher retention. These include investments in teacher preparation, continuing education, school staffing, and other structural supports. During the spring of 2020, as schools closed in compliance with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s initial stay-at home order,38 we witnessed a burst of gratitude for teachers. Social media featured lighthearted postings by parents appreciating the work of teachers and jokingly wishing they could send their children back to school and get them out of the house.39 However, as the summer progressed, concerns grew, and the challenges associated with reopening schools became clearer. As these challenges have crystallized, it has become evident that state government must invest in the professional well-being of its teachers to ensure the long-term stability and success of Illinois’ public schools and communities. Teachers are rightfully concerned that they will not be provided the structural and financial supports necessary to respond effectively to the new challenges presented by the pandemic. While many workers and professionals outside of education face similar challenges, teachers shoulder unique responsibility for a community’s children. To stave off a severe shortage of high-quality teachers in Illinois, policymakers and school leaders must take steps now and make plans for the long term to ensure sufficient, stable funding, robust teacher preparation and continuing education, and holistic supports for all involved in schooling: adults and students. The need to prioritize Illinois schools and teachers has never been more urgent. If teachers are not provided the preparation, continuing education, resourcing, and structural supports necessary to respond to the damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, we risk not only a teacher shortage, but a future of worsening access to opportunity, safety, and equity for generations of Illinois citizens. Our Illinois teachers are ready and willing to effect the changes necessary to rise to this challenge, but they cannot do it alone
Issue Date:2020-11-24
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-04-21

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