GREENVILLE — Like many other places in the Delta, the city of Greenville, where I live and work as an educator, has a high percentage of students living below the poverty line. Our limited funding has always made it difficult to recruit teachers, provide textbooks and other materials for our students, and offer an adequate number of extracurricular activities. The COVID pandemic has made this problem exponentially worse.
For the past 12 months, I’ve taught 18 kindergartners through a screen. This means that I’ve had to work to keep James from watching the television, because I can see the light from the TV shining on his face and his eyes when he turns away. I’ve had to talk Ashly through getting her camera working because there’s no one home with her except an elderly grandmother who doesn’t understand technology. I’ve had to find solutions and workarounds when the children are constantly singing, “Ms. Davis, I can’t see you! Ms. Davis, I can’t hear you!”
Each day as I sit down at my computer and focus on continuing to persevere so I can be there for my students, I also think of those teachers for whom this pandemic has just been too much of a hurdle to overcome. I have watched them cry over the challenges and frustrations while caring for their students and trying to keep their health and their family’s well-being a priority.
These fears, combined with low pay and an inability to support ourselves and our families, are proving too much for many at a time when we need educators the most. Inadequate pay is why it is so difficult to attract educators to teach in critical shortage areas like mine, where vacant positions often go unfilled. And it is one of the main reasons why fewer people are completing teacher preparation programs, and why fewer young people are willing to say, “I want to be a teacher when I grow up.”
In the Mississippi Delta, schools are often understaffed and lack highly qualified teachers. Our students are subjected to overfilled, doubled-up classrooms, permanent substitutes, or no class at all because there is no one to teach them. Many Delta school districts struggle to meet proficiency on our state standards.
Gov. Tate Reeves has signed House Bill 852, which will provide Mississippi’s teachers with a pay raise of up to $1,100. In his remarks, the governor said, “Today, I signed HB 852 to provide a much-needed teacher pay raise! Our teachers deserve this — and more!” I applaud Governor Reeves for signing HB 852, and I couldn’t agree with him more.
While this amount is a good first step, it does not meet the need of current and future teachers and does not help bring in and keep teachers in the Delta, where our students deserve to be taught by effective, excellent educators. A more serious commitment is a $3,000 pay increase, necessary to ensure that all teachers in Mississippi won’t have to choose between teaching and raising a family.
Monday morning, I, along with thousands of other Mississippi teachers, will get out of bed with my mind already racing about how to best ensure my students are learning. When I turn my camera on, my students won’t care if I am struggling to keep my household financially afloat. I will have to put these thoughts aside as I give my kids the best of me. But thanks to HB 852, I will feel a little less worried –— and a little more valued as an educator. When teachers feel valued, they stay.
Let’s make sure that more of Mississippi’s teachers are staying. Our students and families deserve nothing less.
- Tiffany Davis is a kindergarten teacher at Webb Kindergarten Preparatory School in Greenville. She is a 2020-21 Teach Plus Mississippi Policy Fellow.