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Teachers leaving their profession at an alarming rate since the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 5:46 PM, Nov 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-23 17:46:30-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — “Our classrooms are right down the hall,” said math teacher Keavin Smith.

Inside Detroit’s Brenda Scott Academy, there are two educators defying the odds.

WXYZ’s Ameera David asked, “How hard is it to be a teacher in 2022, two/three years out from the pandemic?”

“It’s so hard,” said teacher Melanie Wiggins. “The pandemic has added just like another layer.”

In a pandemic world, being a third-grade math teacher, like Melanie Wiggins and Keavin Smith, means you’re on the front lines of a secondary crisis in the classroom.

The students we visited were in kindergarten when remote schooling began and three years later are still in a race to catch up.

“They have a whole list of skills that they have not mastered,” said Smith.

A reality echoed by a recent national report showing student testing scores, especially in math, falling to levels not seen in two decades.

Yet it comes as we grapple with another downward trend.

More teachers are leaving the profession, overwhelmed by what is often perceived as an unsupported, yet challenging task.

“It can be exhausting, it can be very daunting,” said Smith.

Educators of color are leaving at a more accelerated rate. Melanie and Keavin each moved to Detroit because of roles with Teach for America. Their contract has long been up. But they’ve unequivocally decided to stay.

“What is working for you that is not working for teachers elsewhere?” asked David.

“So, I think one thing we have at this school is community,” said Wiggins. “Really being able to lean on your colleagues.”

With a master's degree and nearly a decade of experience, Melanie works as what many districts call a Master Teacher.

“So, just relating these two concepts,” said Wiggins. “It’s been tough for a lot of the kiddos.”

Meaning 50% of her time is dedicated to helping other educators, like Keavin.

Working one on one to find solutions to the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“How helpful is that role to you?”

“It’s critical,” said Smith. “I’m not sure how long I would have lasted as a new teacher not being from Detroit- coming here having to cope with all the struggles and barriers that students in Detroit are facing.”

“It makes you feel like you’re not alone because teaching can be a really isolating profession,” said Wiggins.

But no one is reaping the benefits more than these students.

Data shows having one black teacher in elementary school makes children more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college- impact Melanie and Keavin don’t take for granted.

“I had a parent call me up and just thank me and what she said to me was, my child has never had a teacher that looked like them, that touched me,” said Smith.

A powerful reminder that their will to push through the biggest challenge of their career could be their student’s biggest reward.