‘Death by 1,000 Cuts’: Kansas Teachers Demoralized by Current Environment – Low Calorie Diets Tips

TOPEKA — Caught in a political crossfire and exhausted by the pandemic, teachers in Kansas are putting down their books and leaving the profession.

in one National Education Association survey55% of teachers said they were ready to leave the classroom. According to the Kansas State Board of Education, there were 1,381 open teaching positions in Kansas as of April 12, and that number is expected to increase.

A 27-year-old teacher, Jeff Plinsky, has observed the steady decline in those entering the field. Though there were a variety of reasons for this, Plinsky said it began when former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration focused on an efficiency model to reduce public school spending while increasing teachers’ workloads.

“The best way to describe it is kind of death by 1,000 cuts,” said Plinsky, outgoing vice president of the Lawrence Education Association and a teacher at Lawrence High School. “There’s a multitude of things that have really hit teachers in the last decade and maybe even longer.”

These problems worsened after March 2020 when teachers had to adapt to virtual learning. However, many teachers were not fully taught how to teach virtually and were not ready for the emotional toll of not being able to see their students.

“It was really hard because we couldn’t reach some of these kids,” said Jessica Popescu, who quit teaching in May after nine years. “So you just had to watch them go down and sort of get over it. It’s tough, especially when you take care of your students.”

A 2013 graduate of Kansas State University, Popescu was recently hired as the undergraduate recruitment coordinator at the Research College of Nursing in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I was really tired of doing a lot of things I didn’t believe in,” Popescu said. “Or two made just to tick the box. As teachers, we always ask for more money, but then I felt that a lot of what we do is not taken seriously. I wanted to be taken seriously as an educator. I wanted to be seen as a professional.”

With just six years until retirement, Plinsky said if he could retire tomorrow, he would.

“[I’d be just as happy with]any minimum-wage job,” Plinsky said. “People there don’t yell at you about what a horrible person I am and what horrible things I’m trying to do to their children while my co-workers protect the children’s bodies from flying bullets that nobody seems to be able to stop.”

Janet Waugh, who represents Northeast Kansas in the 1st District on the Kansas State Board of Education, said things didn’t get any better for the teachers once the students were back in the classroom. Not only did they have students catching up on their classes, teachers had other factors to contend with as well.

“Misinformation is one of the biggest and most dangerous things people get upset about,” Waugh said. “It’s something like (Critical Race Theory), which isn’t one of our standards. To my knowledge, there is no district teacher who teaches it.”

“The parents were upset. The Legislature was upset,” Waugh added. “So many people have criticized the teachers that the teachers – first of all, they’re exhausted. You are drained. The second thing is the way they are treated. It’s just sad.”

Still, for many teachers, the joy of their work lies with their students, Waugh said.

“I think teachers see that as a calling,” Waugh said. “You don’t see it as a job. You can make more money (elsewhere). … They love children. They love to teach.”

Lawrence High School teacher Jeff Plinsky prepares a young graduate for the 2022 National Speech and Debate Tournament. The tournament took place from June 12th to 17th in Louisville, Kentucky. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

Plinsky said new teachers must be prepared for the political currents that will come their way.

“[New teachers]need to make sure they have a financial and psychological support network around them,” Plinsky said. “The hit after hit after hit they take in training – if they don’t have that kind of support, they won’t survive.”

Joan Brewer, dean of Teachers College at Emporia State University, said restoring power to teachers is crucial.

“Listening to the teachers instead of just telling them, ‘This is what you need to do or what you need to do,'” Brewer said. “I think a big key of the legislature is to really invest in teachers and let them lead in a lot of ways.”

In order to improve the system, some believe that it must first collapse before any significant changes can be made.

“I don’t think we’ve reached the peak yet,” said Popescu. “I think you see it getting worse and worse. And I don’t know what will tip it over the edge, but we haven’t got there yet.”

Echoing Popescu’s opinion, Plinsky said that while there are people who do their best, he has no confidence that those in power in Kansas are interested in maintaining a quality education.

“Maybe,” said Plinsky, “this whole thing has to come down in a heap of rubble before those in power decide that maybe they should fix it.”

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