Picture of Commissioner of Education Jason Glass

Commissioner Jason E. Glass

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why we are having such a hard time across Kentucky – and the nation – recruiting new teachers and keeping the ones we already have.

Last month, we released the results of our 2022 Impact Kentucky Working Conditions Survey. Every two years, certified educators working at least half-time are given the opportunity to provide input on teaching conditions that can be used to inform improvements within schools, districts and statewide. This was the first working conditions survey that has been administered to teachers since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

More than 38,000 certified employees responded to the survey, and approximately 33,000 of those were teachers. The results showed that our teaching workforce is in trouble and needs help. A total of 75% of respondents said they were, to some degree, concerned with the emotional well-being of their colleagues as a result of their work, and 64% said they were concerned about their own emotional well-being.

Making sure our teachers have the resources and support they need is important not only for our educators, but also for our students. Our students are seeing their teachers struggle. We’ve heard from our Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council that they see it every day and they’re worried about their teachers.

We all should be worried too.

Our teachers are struggling because they don’t feel they are being brought into the conversation when discussing education policy or given credit for the many years of schooling they are required to have for their job. I believe they feel that policy is something that is done to them, rather than with them.

Our teachers are struggling because they often don’t feel they have the encouragement and support they need to try something new to meet the needs of their students. We’ve heard from people across Kentucky that our accountability system isn’t working for them because they want a system that sees students as more than just a score. We at the Kentucky Department of Education are working with districts across the state on what that system might look like as part of our United We Learn initiative.

And to be honest, our teachers are struggling because they feel that they often are at the center of social media and political firestorms. They feel like they can’t discuss the challenging questions our students are wrestling with daily. Our students are grappling with issues about identity, race, poverty, fitting in and where they see themselves in the future. If our educators feel they can’t listen to or help students who are asking for their assistance, we are going to continue to have a problem recruiting and keeping teachers.

When deciding what to do with their future, our students look to the adults in their lives to see what is possible. The view our students have of teaching right now isn’t a great recruiting tool.

Our students see their teachers overstressed, overworked and underpaid. As our 2022 Teacher of the Year Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr. put it in a recent column, our teachers are doing some extraordinary things despite what is happening to them, not because of it.

When things aren’t working, reason tells you that it’s time to try something new. We’ve had many signs that there are lot of things in our current education system that aren’t working for students, teachers, parents and community stakeholders. So, the big question is, will we have enough will and determination to dramatically change the experience our students are having in the classroom and change things for the better?