Teacher quality, stress are concerns for Georgia advocacy group

Jan 26, 2018

Every classroom should have a certified teacher in it.

That’s one of the takeaways the Georgia Federation of Teachers wants voters to get as the group enters 2018 hoping to educate the public about the people they’re electing to be in charge of the state’s education system.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in Atlanta recently to discuss the year ahead with Georgia Federation of Teachers members, including GFT President Verdaillia Turner, as well as to hear from members. Turner said teachers continue to be faced with high-stress environments and oversized classes and contend for jobs with uncertified competition. She also expressed a need for community schools “run by elected boards of education.”

“In the aftermath of (President Donald) Trump’s election, you’ve seen a big increase in bullying, intolerance, fear and teachers are more and more stressful,” Weingarten said. “We’ve not been able to mitigate on the national level … changing the climate because of what Trump utters every day.”

According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, teacher turnover costs about $7 billion a year.

“Teachers don’t have an independent voice and a contract that they can rely on that is fair and that champions the kind of working conditions they need … when you don’t have collective bargaining contracts that have to be negotiated,” Weingarten said.

A national teacher shortage — 65,000 and growing — has hurt achievement as Turner said people are literally thrown into classrooms with no training.

“What has happened in many states is … they would go and lower the requirements for teachers to come in, lower the training and start putting just about anybody in the classroom,” said Turner, a longtime educator. “Really what is happening is that folk practice without a license, which should not happen in this profession at all.”

In metro Atlanta, every district except Clayton County Schools employs uncertified teachers through waivers, either as part of their charter system status or through the Strategic Waiver School System status. The districts can obtain waivers from certain state laws, rules and guidelines, but could face increased accountability by the state for increased student performance. More than 300 teachers are currently employed in metro Atlanta on certification waivers.

And the profession has become a bit of a revolving door for professionals in Georgia, with many only choosing to stay in the field for about five years, according to a recent study by the Georgia Federation of Teachers.

Georgia Department of Education teacher survey released in late 2015 found more than half the state’s teachers are leaving the profession, and that two out of three teacher respondents stated they were unlikely or very unlikely to recommend teaching as a profession to a student about to graduate high school.

It’s a matter of respect, Weingarten said.

“We’ve had a volunteer army for a long time,” Weingarten said. “Years ago, not enough kids were being recruited. Nobody blamed the soldiers. They changed the conditions. They made the terms and conditions attractive enough so they could recruit and retain soldiers to be the front lines for America. You don’t hear the generals blame soldiers like you often hear superintendents and those in charge of school systems blame teachers. 

“Teachers are the front line of democracy in terms of molding childrens’ aspirations and opportunity, just like our soldiers are the front line of our safety and our national security,” she continued. “But see the difference between how both groups of people are treated. And therein is the problem we have.”