The waning days of summer mean a new school year is on the horizon for Mary Rose Steele. And for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the lifelong math teacher from Massachusetts says she is 'nervous' but also 'excited' for the year ahead.
"The start of a new year always comes with new challenges. By the time we hit October I feel like we've really hit our stride," Steele said.
Over the last two years, Scripps News has followed along as Steele has navigated being both a teacher and a mom during and after a pandemic.
"There are so many people quitting and the last couple of years for the first time I thought about quitting myself, it's too much," Steele said.
But with a new school year looming, Steele is feeling more optimism than she has in recent years.
"I'm pretty excited, every year we get further and further from the pandemic," she added.
Steele said her biggest focus as school gets underway is not just on her student's education, but also on social skills that have been lost since 2020.
"I'm really thinking about pulling phones away so they can connect with each other. You have 15 kids and they don't talk, so what can I do to be that glue that brings everyone together?" she explained.
Cameron Gish, a principal for Explore! Charter School in Nashville, said his biggest concern going into the 2023-2024 school year is filling four priority teaching positions in both math and special education.
"People always think about summer vacation as being by the pool but for the leadership summer vacation is the busiest time of the season. I liken it to if you're preparing this massive holiday feast and all of a sudden the guests arrive and you get to enjoy it," Gish said.
According to a 2022 Gallup Poll, teaching was the top profession for burnout in the United States. And, since 2020, a staggering half a million teachers have left the profession. All of that just make administrators' jobs even more complex.
"As leaders we have to take a step back and realize the traditional way of finding teachers is now how we're finding teachers now. We've tried to increase our outreach and increase ways we support current teachers so we can maintain staff we've built the last few years," Gish explained.
Something else is happening in education that is pushing long-time educators out: politics. A number of states have passed so-called book bans recently or have enacted legislation prohibiting discussion of gender identity or LGTBQ issues.
"It's maniacal, it's maniacal to see this is happening and it's real. I don't see how it's happening in 2023, I just don't. It's too much that people are coming in and thinking that this is good for our society," Steele said.
All of that aside though, teachers like Steele are continuing forward. In hopes of creating the most successful lesson plan possible for the year ahead.
"I'm just looking forward to having another great year with my students," Steele said.
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