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Practitioner’s Perspective – Retaining Teachers of Color (Jordan Gilliard)

Communications Team Intern Jordan Gilliard draws from her experiences as a teacher during COVID-19 to identify issues contributing to teacher shortages. She shares personal examples of resources and strategies that supported her mental wellness, and advocates for systemic change in order to support teachers. 

 

What have you observed or experienced while teaching during COVID-19? Please identify any topics that you think are contributing to issues with teacher retention.  

I was hired in August 2021 as a Long-Term ESOL teacher due to teaching shortages.  I learned on the job from other ESOL teachers who were pivoting and learning how to get ELL students what they need in the new in-person learning environment. Students, especially my ESOL students, have experienced significant learning and school behavior losses. Working in the classroom, we are expected to address new student behavior norms with now outdated discipline and classroom management methods. Students are different, teachers are different, administrators are different, and the school year never slows down. 

At this point, teachers are expected to do more with less capacity and morale is low. As teachers, we have diminishing time to ourselves to decompress and we are shamed for taking care of ourselves. My planning time disappears daily, between my school’s new practice of monitoring students in the hallway as they arrive at school, and covering for other teachers’ absences. Teachers take more days off, either because of COVID-19 or the mental toll of the consequences of COVID-19. We are shamed for taking Fridays off, something rarely shamed in other industries, and it is nearly impossible to find substitute teachers. My district has tried to help by paying substitute teachers more and incentivizing teachers with extra pay. Some teachers have no choice but to sign up for coverage because they have been financially ruined by the effects of COVID-19. The extra money does little to address or alleviate our burnout.  

 

As a teacher of color, what supports, resources, or strategies have helped you?  

I am lucky to be a part of a strong group of young Black women teachers. We share similar drives to teach and similar expectations for our students, and we have supported each other throughout the year. I also have an overlapping group of young teachers who check in regularly to debrief our experiences and struggles in and outside of the classroom. Speaking honestly with other staff members about how I am feeling has been the greatest relief this year. In this COVID-19 era of schooling, we are all experiencing a “new normal”; talking helps my feelings feel real and not like a fever dream.  

For myself and my students, I encourage practicing mindfulness and calm breathing when we get overwhelmed. Sometimes, I need reminders that I cannot do my job if I do not stay connected to my inner sense of peace. I breathe in satisfaction for being alive and well in the moment, and then I breathe out gratitude for the long journey of lessons that have brought me to that moment.  

Most recently, one of my most useful resources has been watching MAEC webinars. As a Communications Team Intern, I have been working on optimizing the webinars in the Reimagining Education series. As I watched A Conversation with Students: Reimagining Education, I gained new insights into how students emotionally dealt with COVID-19 and how they feel their educational experience could be improved. After listening to that webinar, I started being more intentional about asking my students, “How are you feeling or doing?” It truly makes my job easier and more effective when my students share their thoughts with me. 

 

What supports, resources, or tools do you wish you had as a teacher?  

Teachers, in general, require higher pay. The conversation around this should have been long resolved, and it is at the core of this conversation on teacher retention. It is disrespectful to the profession of teaching that we are not paid anywhere near the value that we add to society or for the amount of work we are asked to do. The public collectively reevaluated the importance of teachers during the pandemic, when parents and caregivers became responsible for their students’ education. There should be no question about boosting teacher salaries: if you want to keep good teachers, pay us more than babysitters 

I wish I had more time to work with students on their problem areas. When they are not confident in their skills, they act out. The solution is not just setting and maintaining “high standards”: we have to address the range of emotions people experienced during COVID-19. Many students don’t feel heard or validated even at home; they seem stuck and trapped in 2020. Honestly, some of us adults are as well. Acting as though nothing happened is the opposite of everything that I have learned about while dealing with my own trauma. I think students will feel more emotionally validated and be able to open back up to their “academic selves” once we help them deal with their “personal selves.” However, in the classroom, it feels as though there is no time at all to stop and breathe. It is assignment after assignment. Concept after concept. Assessment after assessment. This will do long-term damage to students and teachers. We are burnt out, and we should be allowed to feel burnt out.  

But to address our burnout – we need structural changes to the school day and year. I’ve received so many thoughtful infographics about how to change individual classrooms, but they act only as band-aid solutions that will further burnout if we do not address the structural issues that leave teachers feeling helpless and ineffective enough to leave the profession.  

Overall, there should be more personal days allowed for years to come. Personally, I think we should also receive free mental health counseling services. Social and emotional learning certification should be normalized and financially supported for all staff as well. If we are going to be the first to deal with the unprecedented emotional repercussions of COVID-19 on students, we absolutely need more preparation to handle it. Avoiding the structural change needed to address these realities will only lead to more teacher shortages.    

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The MAEC blog is designed to engage hearts and minds of school and district leaders across the country to engage in issues that you have identified as being essential in education. Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.

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