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October 1, 2022
Vol. 80
No. 2
Reader's Guide

A Profession on the Brink

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Readers's Guide 1022
Credit: Djavan Rodriguez / Shutterstock
There's no use sugarcoating it: After two-plus pandemic years, the education profession—comprising teachers and school and district leaders—is in a period of crisis. Anyone involved in the field has likely seen the dire statistics from various survey reports over the past year: Majorities of educators are burned out or suffering from low morale. Staggering numbers are contemplating leaving the profession, and many already have. School districts across the country are facing significant shortages, which puts an even greater strain on the educators who remain.
As Linda Darling-Hammond notes in her important piece in this issue, teacher shortages are not new. Indeed, the frequency with which they occur is "just one symptom of how teaching has struggled to be recognized and treated as a profession in the United States over most of our history." But the pandemic and other societal pressures on schools over the past few years have put added stress on an already shaky system. For many educators, the lack of support and respect for the profession have become increasingly palpable.
But if the pandemic period has intensified the problems facing the profession, it could also lead to new solutions, in part by bringing heightened attention to long-standing shortcomings in the system and possibly providing a reset. As Darling-Hammond writes, "The current crisis may offer the opportunity to break with the past, to rethink schools and reconsider what teaching and leading schools should look like and how they can be supported."
For her, this would not be a matter of tinkering around the edges. What's needed, she argues, is a Marshall Plan for education—a bold, multi-pronged strategy to rebuild the profession along the lines already established by other industrialized nations. As she outlines it, this plan would entail greater government investment in recruitment and retention (including financial incentives); an expansion of high-quality residency-based models of teacher education (with a focus on deeper learning and equity); more robust mentoring and professional learning systems; and more distributed approaches to leadership, school design, and curriculum.
Darling-Hammond's article is a good place to start in exploring the dynamics and prospects of the education profession today. Education leaders may quibble with aspects of her plan, but I doubt many will argue with its overall aim of systemically elevating teaching as a profession.

School-Based Improvements

While Darling-Hammond provides a larger policy framework to address the crisis in teaching, other authors in this issue zero in on improvements that lie more squarely within school and district leaders' control. They all, however, require bold and nuanced stewardship.
MIT education scholar Justin Reich, for example, makes a compelling case for resisting pressure to add complexity to teachers' work during the pandemic recovery and focusing instead on what can be subtracted from their duties. "Clear out the marginal and focus on the most important things," he advises, stressing teachers' need for "room to breathe." In her piece, Susan Moore Johnson draws on decades of research to highlight the links between inclusive leadership and collaborative school systems and teacher job satisfaction and retention.
Other authors provide valuable insights on improving diversity in the education profession, another area where the current system has struggled. Daman Harris highlights the success of an innovative support network for Black male educators. But to bring more Black educators into the profession, Dwayne Chism argues, schools must also start further back, by improving Black students' experiences in schools and helping them see teaching as a viable and worthwhile option.
In this, Chism echoes a sentiment that runs throughout the issue—that we, both as a country and an education community, need to take determined steps to center the importance and richness of the work educators do.

Reflect and Discuss

"The Power of Doing Less in Schools" by Justin Reich

➛ In what ways is subtracting harder than adding new programs and initiatives?

➛ Start small—what's one program or process you could eliminate from your school or classroom that isn't an effective use of time?

➛ How do you think simplifying programs or curriculum in your school would affect staff morale and efficacy?

"Managing Polarities in School Instructional Cultures" by Jane A.G. Kise and Ann C. Holm

➛ Has your school or district encountered polarities? How did you identify them?

➛ How can understanding the balance between individual and organizational responsibility help expand teacher capacity and counter the effects of burnout?

➛ Do you have colleagues or community partners who think differently about organizational challenges? If so, how could you work with them to implement the SMALL process?

➛ How can you help students in your school or district rethink ingrained narratives about who is right for the teaching profession?

➛ What are strategies you have used or would like to use to reflect with students of color on their career aspirations?

➛ What steps can your school take to cultivate stronger mentorship, especially for students of color?

"Prioritizing Connection" by Michelle Hope

➛ For school leaders: Do you sense your teachers feel less connected—to students, to one another, and even to the teaching profession—even now that most learning is back to in-person? What signs do you see of connections breaking down?

➛ What barriers to connection do you see in your school?

➛ What would it look like for your administrators to model collaboration to encourage teachers to connect more? Would it be good for school leaders to be active participants in PLCs, as the author recommends?

Anthony Rebora is the editor in chief of Educational Leadership.

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