NEA union president holds roundtable with B-N teachers: 'You inspire me every day'
A recent survey showed a majority of teachers in the U.S are considering quitting their jobs — and the problem goes beyond COVID burnout. National Education Association president Becky Pringle has been meeting with educators across the country over the last year to hear their concerns and ideas.
“You inspire me in ways you’ll never know, every day,” Pringle told Bloomington-Normal educators Thursday during a 45-minute roundtable discussion at a Bloomington restaurant.
Pringle asked teachers about their success and challenges in connecting with their students during the pandemic. Teachers responded schools aren’t set up to give students the support they need.
Maggie Lakebrink is a school psychologist for Unit 5 based at Cedar Ridge Elementary. Lakebrink said she’s proud of the work educators have done to support students’ social and emotional learning (SEL), but she said teachers need more training or schools need to bring in additional staff to address those needs.
“What this has shown us is that the system of education needs a shift into focusing not just on academics but on the whole child,” Lakebrink said, adding that financial realities many schools are facing will make that difficult. “A lot of our local (schools) are looking at trying to reduce expenditures right now."
After the meeting, Pringle agreed many teachers need more support helping students who have struggled with two years of pandemic life.
“There’s no question that the challenges our students are coming back to us after two years of a pandemic has resulted in loss and pain and death and illness and that disconnectedness from each other and from their educators has had a huge impact on coming back in in-person learning and the social and emotional development of our students,” Pringle said.
Pringle said the NEA union cites three main concerns from teachers who are considering retiring early or finding a new career. She said the first was insufficient pay. The second was a lack of support for teachers to address student’s mental health needs. Third, she said teachers also want the schools to hire more educators so they can give more personalized attention to students.
Pringle said the teacher shortage goes beyond retaining teachers, but also attracting aspiring teachers and finding substitute teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and other school support staff.
“We saw schools actually have to shut down in-person learning because they didn’t have enough bus drivers and people realized ‘oh my goodness, bus drivers, that’s important,’” Pringle said.
Pringle added teachers and all school staff need better pay, working conditions and more respect from the public for what they do.
Educators also raised concerns about the heightened political environment surrounding education and what they called disinformation from critics who protest at school board meetings.
Pringle said teachers are bearing the brunt of the politicization of education in the U.S. “They know that these are just efforts to stoke fear and division and take attention away from those policymakers who are supposed to be investing in public schools,” Pringle said.
NEA charter repeal
Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville is among a group of GOP lawmakers and conservative groups calling for the NEA to lose its congressional charter. It's not clear what effect such a repeal would have, but supporters say the NEA has prioritized political activism over student learning.
Davis said the union has strayed from its founding mission in the last few years to embrace a "progressive, far-left agenda."
"The NEA is responsible for extended school closures and obscene curricula that many parents don't want their young children exposed to. They also advocate for woke, progressive policies that have nothing to do with education," Davis said in a statement.
Pringle said that she's honored that those lawmakers recognize the union is powerful enough to stop their efforts to destroy public education.
“I am horrified that elected leaders do not believe that public education is actually the foundation of this democracy,” Pringle said.
Pringle said even if Republicans are able to win control of Congress next year and repeal the NEA's congressional charter, the organization will continue to “lift up the voices of educators” from across the country.
Davis represents parts of Bloomington-Normal. His primary opponent in the 15th Congressional District, fellow incumbent Mary Miller, has also signed on to the legislation.