LETTER: A letterbox with the inscription Letter to the editor

Let me start off by saying the situation we are in is difficult for everyone involved. I absolutely understand and appreciate that people are upset and frustrated by it. In many ways, I am too. That said, I am writing to ask those of you in the community who are choosing to direct your anger and frustration toward the staff of your children’s schools to please stop.

For months, members of our community have taken to social media to publicly berate teachers and school staff. Facebook, Twitter and the comment sections on local news sites have been filled with hatred. A comment I have seen repeatedly is “If teachers don’t want to work, they can quit and not get paid.” 

I don’t have exact numbers, but I will venture a guess that many teachers did just that (and not just in our Fauquier, but all across the nation). Some teachers opted to retire or take unpaid leaves of absence, out of concern for the health of themselves or their family members. 

Another frequently made comment compares teachers to employees in other essential positions such as healthcare, retail and food service and cite they “they have been working the whole time, teachers should, too.” This overlooks the fact that many in these other essential positions have made the exact same difficult decision some teachers chose -- quitting their jobs and taking leaves of absence.

There was a teacher shortage across the nation well before the pandemic and recruiting and retaining substitute teachers and bus drivers has long been a challenge as well. I and several other teachers I know, contacted anyone and everyone we thought may be interested in becoming a substitute teacher this year. The responses I got included “You couldn’t pay me enough money to sub, even in a normal year!” and more commonly, just laughing at the suggestion. Understand that people aren’t lining up at the doors to work in the school system.

In August, the school board adopted an all-virtual model because it was unable to adequately staff both the fully virtual and hybrid models it had previously approved. Now, two weeks into the school year, many parents are contacting teachers with angry, vitriolic emails and phone calls venting their displeasure for a situation far beyond the control of teachers and school administrators. Hateful commentary toward teachers and school staff is prevalent everywhere you look on social media. Staff working extended hours to distribute devices and materials have been yelled at in person by parents as they drive through.

I have personally witnessed staff members come into a faculty meeting after such encounters crying. I know two staff members who returned this year but have since decided to retire and will be leaving the school system at the end of the month (and several others who are considering doing the same). Their treatment by parents played a role in their decision. We need more qualified teachers, support staff, and substitutes in order to best support our county’s children in any model of learning, and the behavior of some in the community is instead contributing to them leaving.

To those parents who have responded with grace and understanding as we work through the inevitable challenges of the first weeks, thank you! Your kind words and support have been a huge source of encouragement and motivation and have meant more than you will likely ever know.

I am asking all parents and members of our school community to take a step back and consider your words before you hit send on that email or social media post. It could be the difference in a teacher’s choice to leave or stay, and we need all the amazing, talented teachers we can get. Our students deserve it.

Submitted by Mike Hammond of Scott District, on behalf of a Fauquier County teacher.

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