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“If You Have One Happy Teacher, You Have 100 Happy Kids”
Back to School

“If You Have One Happy Teacher, You Have 100 Happy Kids”

From the aftereffects of the pandemic to nationwide staff shortages, educators face significant challenges heading into the school year. We spoke to nine about what they’re seeing in classrooms, how they’re rising to the occasion, and what keeps them eager to teach and serve.

Illustrations by Oriana Fenwick

Keonaka Brown
Keonaka Brown Elementary School Master Teacher, Lancaster, TX
Osley Cook
Osley Cook High School Music Teacher, Dallas, TX
Tracy Ginsburg
Tracy Ginsburg Executive Director, Texas Association of School Business Officials, Austin, TX
Ron Grosinger
Ron Grosinger High School STEM Teacher, West New York, NJ
Miesha Medford
Miesha Medford Elementary School Assistant Principal, Lancaster, TX
Kurt Russell
Kurt Russell High School History Teacher and 2022 National Teacher of the Year, Oberlin, Ohio
Cherish Pipkins
Cherish Pipkins Elementary School Principal, Lancaster, TX
Damon Pitt
Damon Pitt High School Principal, Detroit, MI
Melissa Wendorf
Melissa Wendorf Elementary School Teacher, Los Angeles, CA

Kurt Russell loves his job. A history teacher and basketball coach at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio, Russell’s passion for education—and for making a lasting impact on the lives of his students—has remained vibrant through a 25-year classroom career that recently saw him named the 2022 National Teacher of the Year.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Russell says. “It’s not a job for me, per se—it’s a lifestyle that I have, really wanting to do the best I can for students.”

In recent years, however, that goal has become more challenging to meet. Like many educators across the country, Russell has dealt with the unprecedented disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, a more contentious environment around classrooms and curriculums, and nationwide staff shortages that have left already busy school employees juggling additional tasks and responsibilities.

“There have been some difficult times,” Russell says. “There’s been some times where I felt frustrated—times I felt that I’m not being a great teacher. But each day, when I walk into that classroom, just seeing the bright eyes of young people eager to learn pulls me through.”

To better understand the challenges frontline educators are currently facing—and how they’re adapting to meet them—we spoke to nine from across the country:

Question One

How have you been helping students with pandemic-related learning loss?

Studies have found that school closures, remote learning, and other disruptions related to COVID-19 negatively impacted students’ learning—and that academic losses persisted well past the initial building shutdowns of spring 2020.

Question Two

How have you been helping students with pandemic-related mental and emotional health issues?

The pandemic was also hard on students’ mental health, as social isolation, family illness and instability, and other traumatic experiences have fueled ongoing emotional and behavioral problems.

Question Three

How are educators dealing with stress and burnout?

Students aren’t the only ones suffering. Educators across the country are struggling with low morale, brought on by high levels of job stress, disappointment, and burnout.

Question Four

Have you had to deal with staff shortages at your school?

Across the nation, school districts are experiencing a significant and disruptive teacher shortage, one that has led some districts to adopt four-day school weeks and others to recruit people with minimal to no teaching background to step into classrooms.

Question Five

What kind of financial pressures do educators face?

A surge in inflation, student loan and other debt, and comparatively low pay for their level of education and experience are among the factors placing additional financial pressure on educators and their families.

Question Six

To what extent do educators feel respected and appreciated by the rest of us?

A recent national survey of educators found that less than half believe that the general public respects and views them as professionals—down from 77 percent in a comparable 2011 survey.

Question Seven

Many educators are leaving the profession. What keeps you coming back despite its challenges?

Between February 2020 and May 2022, roughly 300,000 public school teachers and other staff left the profession. However, a recent national survey found that while educators largely were dissatisfied with their current working conditions, they also were very satisfied with their jobs.