Editorials, Opinion

Our teacher problem isn’t the teachers

Last week, West Virginia University announced its Teachers Ascend into West Virginia program. Which is exactly what it sounds like: Ascend, but this time geared specifically toward teachers — minus the remote work, or so we assume.

WVU Today (DP-02-20-23) quotes Donna Hoylman Peduto: “We hope to position West Virginia as a competitive place to live and teach by offering rewarding experiences in our schools and communities.”

That’s going to be easier said than done, as it seems Teachers Ascend will be battling the West Virginia Legislature along the way.

In the last few years, the Mountain State has become increasing hostile toward education and educators. In 2021, the Legislature made it illegal for public employees to strike — a measure inspired by the successful teachers’ strike a few years before. Last year, it passed the Anti-Racism Act to penalize teachers for anything in the curriculum that makes students feel uncomfortable. That bill failed on a technicality, but it was revived this year and has already passed the Senate. There are at least two similar bills, as well as one to make schools and libraries criminally liable for “obscene” materials.

This is not to mention the Legislature’s override of county boards of education to allow the proliferation of “public” charter schools — wherein classes can be headed by non-certified individuals. Or the repeated attempts to defund public education in favor of private schools and learning pods.

What teacher wants to work in this environment?

Very few — and that’s the problem.

Because there’s something else we’ve noticed. There’s a lot of effort being put into recruiting teachers: WVU’s Teachers Ascend; bills to allow veterans, teachers aides and paraprofessionals to stand in a teacher’s role; dual enrollment programs for a simultaneous high school diploma and associate’s degree in education; and a grace period for student teachers who fail their certification exam to teach provisionally until they try again.

There’s significantly less effort being put into retaining the teachers already in our classrooms.

There is one bill that would help with classroom discipline. Another would allow teachers to exchange unused personal days for cash. Two bills have been introduced to give teachers pay raises. Both still sit in committee. A third would raise the salaries for multiple types of state employees, including teachers. It just started to gain momentum in the Senate this past week.

But that’s pretty much it. Everything else related to current teachers is designed to make their jobs harder. And that’s probably why West Virginia is having such a difficult time recruiting new teachers.

When potential educators — whether they be students pursing education degrees or out-of-state recruits — see qualified teachers leaving West Virginia schools like rats fleeing a sinking ship, they aren’t likely to want to step aboard.