The last time Bryant Macon, 43, searched for a music teacher’s position, it took him nine months to find a high school band job. Now he can choose any position in the city or suburbs of Chicago by simply showing up for the interview.
“The market is open now because there are so many holes to fill. People are walking out of the building because there are so many options available now. I am staying because of my pension, but if I did not have a wife and kids, I would leave too,” said Macon, who asked that his real name not be used.
Macon said he watched eleven teachers leave their positions last year, some in mid-year, while retired teachers left in June. While Macon loves the band program that he has built up, funding for more instruments has dried up, parents and guardians are not volunteering, and some of the children have more needs than what he can afford to give.
“It is all draining, and things changed during COVID. We have to make time to do extra things that were never really an issue before. The pandemic made the classroom turn all the way around. There are new rules in place, but every time a child coughs or sneezes, I’m thinking, here we go again,” he said. Macon caught COVID from a student two years ago.
The high school where he is employed never shut down, as many of his scholars kept coming to school with the virus. He talked to some of his children, who said that a grandparent or another family member passed the virus on to them. Some instruments and other things came up missing from the band room.
“Times are harder for kids these days, and a lot of them are out here, just trying to survive. It does not justify their stealing, but I can understand why it is happening,” he said. He teaches in a Chicago suburb where several middle-class families are struggling to survive. They are working low-wage jobs that barely pay anything or opt-out of returning to work because their children are being home-schooled. Even though homeschooling is not an option for many families, some children are not comfortable returning to a classroom.
Many schools across the state have major teaching vacancies and are bending the rules to hire people.
“It is all about being creative…they don’t fit the guidelines, but it is better than having an empty classroom. And subs will get paid for just being there–like babysitting,” said Macon. “But for others, this may be an eye opener as to what really goes on in our buildings.”
The behavior of scholars is a problem for schools of color. Children come to the school, make threats, and bring up their parent to whup you for not obeying the child. Macon said he has heard kids cuss out adults and make a scene, and there are no consequences for their behavior.
Inside the building, schools need security guards because the city police are not called. Violent attacks and bullies, for the most part, are handled in-house. And most of the time, the families relocate to a different area of town so that the child can attend a different school.
“With our younger, female staff, it is the violence that scares them away. Everyone is not cut out for this career,” he said, with a grin. “But if they really want good teachers to stay in the district, they would pay us better. My wife’s hairstylist makes more money than I do, and she only works part-time.”