Local teachers react to growing teacher crisis

Local school’s staff feel growing effects of the teacher crisis from additional stress, overall decreasing levels of respect from others and from the media and technology as a whole.

The teacher crisis began to arise in 2015 as people began to notice an imbalance of education jobs, and now as many as 51,000 teachers quit across the country in May of 2023. 

This is causing many schools to panic as they try to find a solution on how they are going to teach their students in the coming school year.

“You can see the effects within the school,” said Joseph Rottinghaus, a math specialist and coach at Holmes Junior High. “We’re getting less teachers to choose from in the teacher pool. We are seeing more stress being added to teachers due to the lack of coverage, whether it would be substitutes, whether it would be paraeducators, bus drivers or it could be teachers themselves. Thankfully, here in Cedar Falls, we’re a little bit beneficial as compared to other parts of the country where it has really affected them.”

Schools rush to fill in empty teacher slots by using long term substitutes, emergency certified teachers and, as some teachers have noticed increasing class sizes, which come with its own set of unique problems as teachers have the additional responsibility of taking care of more students than they can handle.

“Yes, I do think the class sizes are bigger, and that does create stress,” Debbie Paulsen, a biology teacher at Cedar Falls High School, said. “It’s more student work to grade. It’s more students to manage within a particular section, and it does lead to less one on one interaction.”

Hansen Elementary Principal Savannah Swestka agreed, relating to the covid pandemic, she said, “There have certainly been new challenges after the pandemic as it relates to student behavior and achievement gaps; undoubtedly, the needs of kids and families have changed since the pandemic.”

Teachers have also been feeling less respected in and out of the classroom as American culture has changed its attitude toward the teachers and what they do for the community.

“It’s not that I don’t feel respected, but the level of respect has definitely gone down ever since I started. It feels like it goes down each year even though it’s not the kids that are changing it. I think it’s more of the whole picture of it; students, staff, parents, people in the community,” Rottinghaus said. “You’ll hear a lot of things like kids change, and a lot of times it’s not the kids changing. It’s the circumstances around them that are changing.”

Paulsen said, “Our culture has become less about collective good and more about individualism, and so thus those respect things are all about collective culture, their community and their expectations within the community, but as we allow for ‘you do you and I’ll do me’ there’s seemingly less of that.”

The American Federation of Teachers has recently been fed up with social media as it causes mental health problems in students and can cause misbehavior; however, social media doesn’t just affect the students. It can also affect the teachers themselves as they feel the recent stress and pressure from the media, and as technology continues to grow, teachers worry about what that implies for their classroom and for themselves. 

“I think that there’s a lot of pressure put on teachers due to social media in particular,” Rottinghaus said. “How everything is recorded nowadays like how teenagers have cell phones now who immediately post to Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, and it immediately goes out there and goes viral. You see videos of something happening in the classroom, and you may not know the whole story behind it.”

Paulsen said, “I’ve been very fortunate. I think some of it is the content area that I teach. When I first started teaching, evolution was highly controversial, but that has even died down, so I think the nature of what I teach has a system with that to be in the social sciences or to be in English right now would be very challenging because there’s multiple aspects involved. If you’re an English teacher, some of the content you’ve been teaching for years is coming into question.” Paulsen said.

Even though Cedar Falls schools have been somewhat in the clear of the ongoing teacher crisis, local teachers are still feeling the ripple effects and teachers know that it might not last any longer.

“Cedar Falls is in a pretty good place, but we can’t take that for granted, so I think that the teacher crisis will impact everyone. We might be in Cedar Falls, but we are all a part of something bigger,” Paulsen said.

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