The district needs to act to save teachers

Teachers are leaving like never before, and students are bearing the burden.

By Finn Lotton-Barker, Co-Editor in Chief of

As the pandemic slowly grows smaller in the rearview mirror and we look ahead towards rebuilding stable learning systems, we are reminded that the most baleful obstacle on the path to normalcy is actually the inability of Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) administration to foster a healthy or financially stable environment for their own employees, a crisis which is directly harmful to learning in Lawrence schools. In other words; new year, same story.

Teachers and specialized staff are fleeing the district like rats on a sinking ship, and frankly, it’s hard to blame them. Staff loss is becoming so prominent it’s dangerous.

Schools like LMCMS, which were already chock-full of issues, are emptying as droves of teachers resign and retire. As a Central alum, I can only name one or two of my teachers that haven’t quit or transferred elsewhere. 

COVID is an easy scapegoat for a faulty system but it’s unfair to say that it caused every problem we struggle with. The pandemic merely accelerated issues of teacher discomfort, it didn’t create them. 

LPS teachers are tired of low pay and program reduction, and, combined with the constant disrespect from admin, the build-up of animosity towards upper management is both palpable and justified. Educators are leaving quicker than they can be replaced, which means rooms full of disappointed kids sitting on their phones in front of a long-term substitute. 

Another major problem is paraeducator loss, past, present, and potential. It’s becoming harder to convince our specialized staff to dedicate so much time, energy, and effort to a job with a borderline unlivable wage. 

It’s even harder to convince college students to work hard for a degree just to enter a field that basically pays equivalent to a fast food job, a job I doubt most administrators could or would do.

The district is well aware of the pay issue and has been working hard to increase salaries, but the root of the issues goes further than just pay. Teachers have been adapting to poor board and administration decisions for ages. 

Non-thought-out mandated professional development, district-wide standardized tests riddled with errors, and new systems for behavioral problems created by people who haven’t spent a day actually teaching children. All of these policies are frequently adopted and unadopted with little to no teacher input.

I have no delusions about the difficulty of managing an entire school district, and I know that keeping all 22 of Lawrence’s schools in operation is probably more complicated than I could wrap my head around. That said, it should be in the administration’s interest to sniff out why so many of their employees are leaving and try to do some damage control.

If we aren’t willing to do more to fix pay issues then we have to compensate somewhere else. Making teachers want to stay here again starts with building a relationship of mutual trust and respect. We need to listen to teachers when we make decisions that concern them instead of implementing policies without consulting them. 

I think the majority of problems in the district are realistically solvable. Where things become impossible is trying to please multiple parties all at once. That’s why it’s even harder to excuse giving teachers the short straw every single time. 

“Making sacrifices” has been the corporate line since the dawn of time, yet it always seems like teachers’ resources are sacrificed considerably more than any other items. 

Frequent readers may remember my editorial about the administration last year. Since I wrote that it feels like things have only spiraled. 

I was looking forward to taking Latin III my junior year so naturally, when I learned it was cut I was devastated. The history of LHS Latin was deep and rich, It’s literally painted on the walls of the school. To me, that painting feels more like a memorial or a grave now.

Students looking forward to German or Mandarin were also let down when their programs ended, with the German teacher quitting days before school started. In one summer three of our five foreign languages vanished.

It’s not just “an unfortunate but necessary program loss” or “a few disgruntled employees.” Students are losing valuable information and experiences as a direct consequence of administrative negligence. 

I truly wish we could teach every program, play every sport, and save every school. But our process of making and implementing decisions is fixed. We’ll lose more than we can imagine.

Making educators part of the process goes beyond adding the odd teacher to a BPEC committee. It means truly observing the front lines of our buildings, not just sitting in the back of a well-behaved class assuming every room is the same. 

Let the people who teach children actually explain what help they need teaching children. Let teachers be part of the decision-making process when their classrooms are directly affected by every decision. Let the people who have dedicated their lives to education spend more time educating and less time arguing.