The morale problem of the school system | Editorials

The coronavirus pandemic has been very hard on many people, but – apart from healthcare workers – teachers have faced some of the biggest challenges.

Whether teaching their students remotely or remaining masked throughout the school day, our educators have been forced to remain flexible and adapt to new ways of doing their jobs time and time again. . Perhaps the hardest part is that the challenges seem to go on and on.

The pandemic has taken its toll. Teachers and support workers, including bus drivers, have resigned in unusually high numbers and filling these positions has proven unusually difficult.

Frederick County Public Schools say they need 36 teachers, 40 bus drivers, 79 food service workers, 67 teaching assistants and 19 babysitters. He also needs around 60 long-term substitute teachers.

It’s a mess and, for many, morale has collapsed and burned.

The frustrations of school employees emerged at a recent special Frederick County School Board meeting, where members learned how understaffing affects daily work.

The council did the right thing by organizing the emergency work session. Listening is the first step in solving problems. Officials also shared some ideas for solving the myriad of issues contributing to the shortage.

But the greatest value of the session was letting frustrated and exhausted teachers, bus drivers, food service workers and others have their say.

In the public comments portion of the meeting, Kate Ehrlich, a social science teacher at Oakdale High School who has worked in the district for 16 years, swallowed back tears as she described how the staff shortage is building “morale. exceptionally low ”.

“This has been the worst school year I have ever had,” Ehrlich said, according to a report by Jillian Atelsek of the News-Post. “It is so important that you hear our concerns. And I hope you really hear them, and really do something. And if you don’t, God help you. We are all watching.

Our reporter wrote that employees said the vacancies made even the most basic school functions difficult. Every afternoon, the bus lines are canceled. Teachers log unpaid hours of work daily to complete grading and planning, while covering duties for absent colleagues, food service workers and more.

Board members said the hiring process needs to be streamlined and the system needs to better recruit volunteers who can support teachers and food service workers as the system tries to replenish its staff.

They also mentioned more planning and grading time for teachers. And finally, the need to increase wages across the system was discussed.

Ah, again the school board is up against Frederick County just not paying its teachers enough. The starting salary is near the lowest in Maryland and the average salary is a little better.

When the going gets tough in a job market, pay level becomes the first test for potential employees. Other factors are important, but if you don’t pay people a competitive salary, many potential candidates will never make it. They will just look elsewhere.

This is an ongoing problem for our county, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. The board needs to understand that teacher pay needs to be made more competitive.

For now, however, the system needs to be proactive in addressing morale issues. The board and administration should work with principals and employee unions to brainstorm.

It can take a lot of small steps to restore trust, show respect to all employees and the challenges they face, provide emotional support, and inspire exhausted veterans and struggling newbies.

Frederick is not the only one facing these problems. The Internet is full of suggestions from other school systems. We understand that directors and managers are also exhausted by the demands of dealing with the pandemic. But it is a test of leadership.

Solving big problems will take time. But small steps can make a difference now.

About Colin Shumway

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