#TeachersServeToo: How Teacher Respect Can Turn the Educator Shortage Around

Chelsea Penney
April 4, 2024

Author, Evan Erdberg was joined by Dr. Anna Stubblefield, Superintendent of  Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, and Dr. Victoria Hansen Stockton, Superintendent of Bellwood School District 88 for a virtual book launch celebrating the release of #TeachersServeToo

The new book, #TeachersServeToo, advocates for educator respect. Teachers serve on the frontlines of our children’s education every day. It is an already difficult job made harder by the threat of school shootings, parent complaints, and controlling legislation. The nuance and magic have been removed from the profession, forcing teachers to leave their roles at a staggering rate. Once trusted experts are now kept on a short leash. Don’t be fooled, our country’s chronic teacher shortage is caused by a lack of respect and distrust for the professionals nearest to our children. Ultimately, the educator shortage leaves students at a disadvantage.

Evan Erdberg is joined by two superintendents who share their perspectives on the book #TeachersServeToo and the subject of teacher respect. 

What inspired you to write the book #TeachersServeToo?

Evan Erdberg: I wrote #TeachersServeToo as a tribute to the adaptability and resilience of those we’ve entrusted to educate our children. Over the past ten years, the teacher shortage has grown. The students are really the ones suffering, especially diverse populations and economically disadvantaged groups - your urban and rural communities. Through my work at Proximity Learning, I was able to see firsthand what it looked like to have no teachers in classrooms for not just one or two years but three, four, five, six years of not having teachers there. I realized there was a real issue that stemmed from our society that has changed the perspective of how we view teachers. 

We used to hold teachers up on a pedestal. Now, there has been a massive change and lack of respect for teachers. They say, ‘Those who can’t do - teach,’ and that’s not fair. Teaching has been litigated so much that they have no ability to control their classrooms. Teachers aren’t treated as professionals anymore, they’re treated as robots. I want to call this out. 

If you don’t enjoy where you work, you’re not going to stay. You’re not going to grow. You’re not going to invest your time or your life into doing that job. This is why we have a shortage.

“Teachers are a diamond in the rough. We really need to buff it out and put them back on that stage because until we do, this teacher shortage is going to continue to get worse.”

People go into teaching because they’re empathetic. They want to help students. They want to change the world and help us have a better future. But when you go into the job and you’re given scripted lessons, you’re told you can’t hug a child that’s crying, you can’t have simple interactions with students. It takes away the fun and magic of being a teacher, and all that’s left is a low salary.

What challenges do you see in your schools that extend beyond the classroom?

Dr. Anna Stubblefield: In my schools in Kansas City, Kansas, you see things that are sensationalized on social media. Teachers are navigating these challenges along with mental health, economic disparity, and teaching kids, but they still show up for their classes. Because we know that however students show up on that day, they’re showing up as their best selves. 

With that, I see the resilience of teachers, being innovative and thinking of how to address those needs. They know they need to address those immediate needs first while also engaging the students in learning. Teachers are being creative, but that’s also taxing. I applaud teachers and support teachers. 

Within our systems, we try to do whatever we can to make the job as doable as possible. There are real things that teachers face that we see in our community that don’t stop at the door, but we often have an opportunity to put a pause on it and create a safe space for students to engage in learning. 

This is my 26th year in education, and it’s different in some ways that are better and different in some ways that are challenging. To Evan’s point, I do think that the high regard and respect that teachers got in the past has dwindled. A lot of people are choosing not to major in education because of some of the stories that are out there. There’s a lot of opportunity in education, and I hope that respect and regard will come back so we can continue to attract those who love students and want to better our society. Everybody in every profession goes through a school system, and we have to remember that. 

Dr. Victoria Hansen Stockton: I’m seeing the same things. It doesn’t matter where you are, we are all facing the same challenges: the teacher shortage, the economic disparities. But I’m also seeing the resilience of teachers. 

In my district, we have rebounded from Covid. We are seeing our test scores go up, but teachers are burned out. They are expected to do much more than before, the demands are high, and all of the mandates that are coming down from the state and federal government are having an impact. I’m seeing absence numbers rise - student absences as well as staff absences. 

This transformation is happening and I think Evan is right - if we don’t start to address what’s happening, we’re going to see those numbers exasperate. That’s what I’m seeing in my district and as I talk to other colleagues in the field, they’re also seeing similar issues. 

We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, so there is a sense of urgency that I don’t think we felt 20 years ago when I started. 

What impact do you hope to achieve through the #TeachersServeToo movement?

Evan: I named the book #TeachersServeToo as a call to action. When you speak to someone in the military and you say ‘thank you for your service,’ it’s because they are on the frontlines protecting our freedoms. Teachers are also on the frontline educating and protecting our students every single day. I believe they deserve similar respect that we provide to the military. 

I believe if we can change how the profession is perceived, we can help turn around the number of teachers exiting the profession. Right now 44% of teachers quit in the first five years, and we need to stop that. We need to change the perspective, so when people are trying to figure out what they want to do, becoming a teacher is a viable option they’re excited about. I want to spark a movement to support teachers to help us turn around the crisis we’re headed into where the ‘haves’ have educators and the ‘have-nots’ don’t have educators. I’m here to call it out so we as a society can make that change today. 

What personal experiences led you to press for more teacher respect?

Victoria: Teachers are expected to be counselors, social workers, and a lot of times they provide food for their children. They are expected to do so much more than teach a lesson. Sometimes they get ‘beat up’ by parents, sometimes they get ‘beat up’ by the community. 

[As superintendents], we see them go through challenges. Think about it: they’re in the classroom educating children, but they have to answer to the parents, they have to answer to the principal, and they have to answer to the community. It’s a very nuanced job. It’s a lot that we put on their plates, and it’s time we give them the respect they deserve and not demonize them for doing the best that they can. They have to figure out ways to reach every single kid on a personal level, so they can connect with them and help them excel in school. It’s very difficult at times. 

Anna: We became teachers because of the great experience we had [in school]. We loved our teachers, and our teachers were respected, held in very high regard. If we saw our teachers in the grocery store, we were in awe because we thought they were magical. 

When I walk through classrooms now, I see teachers in the moment when a student is having an emotional response to something. They are stopping to address that, and it interferes with the learning of everyone else. Within a minute when that student is taken care of, they’re back on teaching reading, math, whatever they were doing. In a lot of professions, you would get to take a step back and gather yourself. That gift of time for a pause is not there. 

When you think about the pace of a day for any teacher from elementary to high school and then compare it to me as a superintendent, they don’t get those simple things [like a bathroom break]. There is a lot of pressure on educators. They are serving, but they are held to expectations that are not realistic. They have to worry about everything they say because a sound bite could be used in a very negative way [out of context on social media]. They say, “It’s too much. I just want to be here for the kids,” but simple things can be misinterpreted and used against them.  

What about the future?

Evan: Every year, we have 18-year-olds graduating who are passionate about saving the world and helping people. We have people willing to go into teaching. We just need to change how we perceive the profession. Our population is growing. Our cities need more and more teachers. We need to create an environment to empower these future teachers to want to go into education. 

Then when they come out of their teacher programs, we shouldn’t be throwing them into classrooms with all the troublemakers or giving them the worst schedules. We need to give them something to be proud of - to be in a great classroom with a great mentor - so we don’t lose 44% of our teachers every 5 years. I don’t know any other profession that has to deal with that. 

It’s very hard for school districts to invest in these teachers, support them, mentor them, and then lose half of them. But I do believe that there is hope, and I do believe there are future teachers out there for us. I have no doubt that every year we are graduating children who want to go into this profession. 

How does the data reflect these changes?

Evan: In the 2020 pandemic’s aftermath, a sobering reality is that we lost 1.2 million students who departed the public school system. Just to put this in perspective, if a school district is not able to show a student is on their books, they don’t get the funds that the taxpayers pay toward that student. 1.2 million students is almost $10 billion in student funding that has been pulled from our school districts, but school districts still have fixed costs to cover. 

This 1.2 million students includes a couple of groups. It includes people who are diving into private schools - private schools have massive waitlists today, which they did not have pre-pandemic. Homeschooling is probably the fastest growing K-12 group in America today. And finally, kids that we just lost. In urban environments, kids get 3 meals a day and school is a safe haven. For 2 years, kids were not able to have that safe haven, so we lost a lot of those students. 

Many of these 1.2 million students are moving to private schools and to homeschooling, which is removing parents who are advocating for better education, it’s removing the funds, and it’s further separating the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ canyon that’s been building. 

We need these parents in those public schools, we need students in those public schools. The more they keep pulling out, the more support is going to be pulled out. Every school administrator knows they need that PTA. They need those parents there advocating for their kids to help make the school better. 

How can we increase teacher respect?

Teachers advocate for students all day, every day. Now it’s our turn as the community to advocate for teachers. 

#TeachersServeToo really focuses on empowering educators. It takes a community, not just the teacher, to empower us to change our K-12 environment. 

Teachers and administrators can’t do it alone. We really do need to leverage parents, caregivers, and community organizations to increase teacher respect in our society. 

Districts must adapt to our current realities of the teacher shortage - things are not going to go back to the way they were. We have to be future-focused to support teachers along the way. 

Let teachers’ voices be heard - listen to the new teachers entering the profession and adapt to their needs to allow them to adapt to the children's needs.

Prioritize equitable funding and resources for all students and teachers. There are mental health needs, mediation needs, conflict resolutions - all of the things schools are expected to do but there is no funding to do it. Support funding so the teacher doesn’t have to be everything to everyone. 

Respect teachers, support students

Education is the one free thing every student gets that can break the cycle of poverty and teachers are the ones leading them on that journey. We need to empower them to be successful because success for a teacher means their students are learning, graduating, and becoming valued parts of our society. 

Join the movement: Share a story of how a teacher impacted your life on social media using #TeachersServeToo.

about the author
Chelsea Penney

Chelsea Penney earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing from University of Colorado Denver and her Masters of Science in Marketing from Texas A&M University Commerce. She loves living in Austin, TX and working on the frontline as Content Marketing Manager for Proximity Learning.

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