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We’re in the home stretch of another school year. This is the season of retirements, end-of-year programs, the yearly shuffle of positions, and negotiation meetings for new teacher contracts.

As teachers, we can feel that we’ve almost made it through another year. With that knowledge comes all the feelings. Pride in the job we’ve all done, frustrations for the goals we didn’t achieve, worry about all the changes that are coming in the next year, and exhaustion. Pure exhaustion. This year has taken everything we’ve had to give, again.

We get a little impatient at this time of year. We find ourselves stressed about student behaviors that we haven’t been able to fix. We say things like, “You know, that behavior is not going to fly next year with your new teachers.” Our students get tired of hearing that line. We get tired of saying it.

We celebrate the achievements we have made. In my class we’ve been evaluating informational papers this week, and you know what? They are pretty darn good. We’ve come a long way, and we can be proud of that.

There will be students who we will miss. And ones who we absolutely won’t. This is the 26th time that I’ve done this end-of-the-school-year time as a teacher.

This year the end-of-year weight has felt a little heavier for several reasons. Our school can’t seem to hire custodians who stay, so there is a shortage. I used to always be able to count on my garbage cans being emptied in my classroom every night. And someone would always sweep my room. My room would be mopped regularly, and the tables would be wiped down too. Now, there hasn’t been a custodian in my room for more than a month, so teachers are doing it. And sometimes we’re getting students to help too because it doesn’t feel good to be in a dirty environment every day, and some students are asking to help. I’m hearing this is not just a problem at my school or district, but many schools are having similar problems.

Our school building is also not being maintained sufficiently. This week a drinking fountain just detached from the wall and is kind of hanging there. The heating system in our building isn’t working properly. It really hasn’t for years, but this is the worst it’s ever been. When the boiler is on, one side of the building is comfortable, and the other side of the building is 90 degrees, and that’s not an exaggeration. So, they shut off the boiler. Now, one side of the building is comfortable, and the other side of the building where I work is freezing because it’s still getting down into the 20s and 30s at night. Some of us have brought in space heaters that we’ve purchased ourselves to make our rooms a little more tolerable, and we’re teaching in our winter coats all day. These conditions are not ideal for a teaching or learning environment.

We’re in a negotiation year right now for teachers. Last week there was another meeting with both sides at the negotiation table. We haven’t had a negotiation year since before COVID. We’ve watched administrators get “cost of living” raises and new high-paying administrative positions created in the years since teachers have had a chance to negotiate. We’ve also seen some classified staff who are among the lowest-paid employees in the district actually get pay cuts last year. This could be contributing to the district not being able to find people to fill these lower-paid positions. Now there is a dialogue happening that teachers shouldn’t expect much of a raise from this negotiation process this year because the district is in financial trouble. There are too many teachers to give us all significant raises, and there are too many veteran teachers who are expensive. My husband and I would both be in this “veteran teacher” category. But neither of us makes as much as the lowest-paid administrator. We’re not ready to quit working. We need to pay off our mortgage before we can afford to retire. I don’t think experience should be cast as a negative attribute in an educator.  These lines of discussion just don’t seem fair at all and are contributing to what feels like low staff morale. We’re being asked to do more and more while also being asked to expect less in terms of compensation, while the ones making the highest salaries have seen significant raises in recent years.

My district is currently running two levies right now in our town. The high school levies haven’t passed since 2007, and there is dire need. People say they can’t afford another school levy. They point to high property taxes and increased costs of living for themselves. I get it. Where we live has seen a boom in popularity. Housing prices are astronomical right now. It’s hard to make ends meet, even for our household made up of two teacher salaries and with a mortgage on a house that was purchased before prices skyrocketed. We also have a daughter in college, so we’re funding two households right now, and it’s tough. Really tough. But we will both be voting for the levy. Education is underfunded, and all students in a community should have a chance to learn in the best environment possible.

With all these mounting weights bearing down on teachers and other school employees right now, it’s hard to stay optimistic. One of my colleagues this week just threw up her hands one day and said, “I’m wearing too many hats! I just can’t be in charge of one more thing!”  Yes, we all agreed. What’s happening right now in education is not sustainable.

So, what needs to be done? It’s always easy to “admire” the problem. But what are the solutions?

In a perfect world, this is what I believe should happen.

  1. Schools should be fully funded, automatically, and sufficiently. Education should be a top priority in our country and in our states, and it shouldn’t just be left to schools to beg for funding in levies. Every student deserves a free and quality education. The health of all our communities depends on it.
  2. In a district, if there is money to give raises to the highest-paid employees, there should be raises across the board at all levels. If administrators get a 10 percent raise, so should teachers, so should custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers, subs. Everyone. We’re all living in the same community. We all have the same cost of living demands. It is not fair that those making six figures get significant raises while those making 19 bucks an hour get nothing, or next to nothing. Don’t have money to give everyone a 10 percent raise? Then everyone gets a 1 percent raise, but it should be fair and equal. If our subs, custodians, teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and etcetera all felt fairly compensated, we wouldn’t see the staffing shortages we’re seeing now. And when positions need to be cut due to funding issues, it shouldn’t automatically come from teaching staff. What about expensive admin positions? Of course, administrators should make more than teachers. I do not want that job and those responsibilities. It’s a high stress, high demand position that requires many years of education and many more hours during the summer, weekends, and before and after school. But we should only have as many of those positions as we can afford. They shouldn’t be funded before teaching positions or other lower-paid, needed positions.
  3. Parents need to start parenting again. Many of them are, but some are not. Schools cannot wear all the hats, and it is unfair to expect them to, and it is also impossible.
  4. I don’t know all the answers or any of the problems, really. I just know that there needs to be dialogue. Whenever I tell people who aren’t in education details about a day in my life, they don’t believe it. It sounds made up. But it’s not. And teachers and others need to quit quietly taking up the slack and covering for insufficient funding in our schools. There needs to be change in our education system and how it is funded, and it starts by not being afraid to talk about it.