Editorials, Opinion

Teachers aren’t happy. It’s not hard to see why

After reviewing some of the results from the West Virginia Education Association’s recent teacher survey, it’s easy to see why the Mountain State’s school system is struggling.

A few highlights: 73% dissatisfaction rate with working conditions in the past year vs. 2% satisfaction rate; 62% said they are feeling burnt out — a higher rate than in 2020; 35% said they aren’t confident they’ll remain in the teaching profession (the greatest share of which are “early career” employees); and roughly half of those who said they’ll remain teaching for a while still indicated that they are likely to retire or leave education work earlier than initially planned.

In all, there were over 1,700 open teaching positions across the state, and based on these survey results, over one-third of remaining teachers have one foot out the door.

The Legislature is trying to address the problem with pay raises (there are several proposals), but compensation is only one facet of the problem. Educators (85%, according to the survey) are fed up with public school funds going to charter schools and voucher programs. (Because somehow there’s plenty of money to give away to home-schoolers, but not enough money to buy classroom supplies.) The Grand Canyon Institute, a non-partisan think tank, analyzed Arizona’s broad voucher program — similar to West Virginia’s — and estimated 45% of applicants were among the “wealthiest quartile of students” in the state.

Teachers are also tired of being students’ and parents’ punching bags (mostly proverbial, but occasionally literal), living in fear of mass shootings and, just overall, being disrespected.    

Who can blame them?

Reasonable people can disagree on what qualifies as reasonable compensation for a teacher’s schedule, but it’s hard to deny that schools and educators are taking the brunt of the national and legislative culture wars, and that takes a mental and emotional toll that money alone can’t remedy.

The Legislature continues to push bills that not only micromanage what content can be taught in schools and how, but also, in some cases, implement criminal penalties for violations. For example, the Legislature is trying to revive the “divisive concepts” and (nonexistent) critical race theory bill that could get teachers fired for honestly teaching history. (Sometimes history is uncomfortable, but it’s still important that we learn it.)

There’s also the “human development” bill that will force teachers to show third, fifth and eighth graders an anti-abortion propaganda video (we’ll discuss this further in another editorial) under threat of being sued if they don’t.

Then there’s the bill to mandate “In God We Trust” be displayed in schools — which we guarantee will open schools to lawsuits, because the same law passed in other states has done exactly that. (It’s all fine and dandy until someone donates a poster with the motto written in Arabic or Hebrew, or with a rainbow-colored font.)

Is it any wonder West Virginia can’t keep teachers?

Money is nice, but there are some things money can’t buy — like peace of mind and sense of personal security. So maybe, if West Virginia wants to attract new teachers and keep the ones it already has, our legislators should give greater consideration to those factors as well.