I have sat back idly as long as I can, perhaps too long. I have heard about the mass exodus of teachers, good teachers, just waiting for the end of the year. Over the past several months, I have spoken to a number of teachers from several different schools in the Dorchester County School System and the frustration is at a point of explosion.
We are seeing that explosion in the form of, what some estimate, over 100 teachers leaving our County. These teachers are going to any number of other counties and, of course, some are retiring and others have decided to leave teaching completely.
As I have talked to some of these teachers, three main reasons seem to be repeated: pay, morale and discipline. With Dorchester County near the bottom of the pay scale in Maryland, it is difficult to attract new teachers, let alone retain experienced ones. Since we have been low for a while, I don’t see this as the main reason for the great loss this year.
The second reason I will address is discipline. A problem at most, if not all, of our schools. Teachers spend entirely too much time dealing with problems in the classroom, taking away from educating those who want to learn. With their hands tied, in many ways, they finally send them to the office, with a referral, many times having them sent back.
Why is this, because the hands of the administration have also been tied? Although we do need to be aware of the number of suspensions, we need to be concerned with the classroom safety and the positive educational experience our students deserve.
I contend, many of these repeat offenders, need to be given an environment where they, too, can succeed. Perhaps it is not in a classroom setting where they are able to be disruptive.
Finally, a problem that can be adjusted immediately is that of morale among staff members. The best leaders are those who treat their staff with the respect we all deserve. Some of the stories I have heard from teachers, regarding how they are treated, are inexcusable.
Dorchester County has great teachers who deserve respect. Are there times they need direction and some fine tuning to their teaching skills? Absolutely, we all do. But a good leader critiques those they are charged to train with respect and professionalism.
The proper way is not to belittle and micromanage to the point the person questions their abilities. I have heard of some of the techniques used and will only say, we don’t want our students treated the way some of our teachers are treated.
Going forward, the first proactive strategy I would encourage is to retrain some of our upper leadership on how to positively work with the staff they oversee. If they have constructive criticism, share it in a constructive, respectful way.
If there are requirements they feel the staff can do better, share them in a positive manner. I contend, most people will be receptive and appreciative. Our teachers want to do the best job they can. They want their students to “get it.” If someone can give them new ideas from their experience, they will be open to it.
We can’t do anything about the pay scale today. But we can, starting today, support our teachers and administrators as they try to improve school discipline. And we can, starting today, work on improving staff morale by treating our teachers and other employees with all the respect they deserve.
Editor’s note: Mr. Reed is a Dorchester native and writes from his home in Cambridge.