Our 10 Most Popular K-12 Stories of 2023

Looking back at the EdSurge K-12 stories that resonated the most with readers last year, many of them relate in some way to the teacher shortages felt around the country. Not just the numbers, either, though there was plenty of interest in the data.

While there was still discussion around attracting new teachers, there was an increase in talk about keeping teachers, too — including from teachers speaking frankly about what would make them stay or why they left.

Many of these stories dive deeply into the heart of teacher turnover: the years of overwhelm, loss of autonomy and desire for some aspect of work-life balance that culminate in a breaking point.

These are people who felt that being educators was their calling, but the sacrifices they have been asked to make — especially in light of the strain of the pandemic — made remaining in their teaching jobs seem impossible.

Here are the most popular K-12 stories from 2023.

10. A Student and a Teacher Try to Untangle Why Group Work Is, Well, Terrible

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo

This one hits close to home, and it’s thrilling to see that the topic of group work resonated with so many readers. The student in this headline is me, a humble grad student who had truly some of the worst group project experiences of my life during the last three years. The teacher was Jen Manly, who had many titles but also many ideas about how educators can make group work better — and dare I say, enjoyable — for participants.

9. My Students Deserve a Classroom. Instead, I Teach Them in a Hallway.

By Katerra Billy

This describes the frustration of a special education teacher lacking one of the most basic elements of a class — as the headline says, a classroom. Billy carefully lays out all the reasons teaching in a hallway is detrimental to her students’ progress. There was one surprising element that harkens back to the most basic part of a room, and that’s that without one, her students felt vulnerable and uncomfortable having their learning process on display to their peers. Classrooms provide a safe space to perhaps make mistakes or at least not have the nature of your academic needs put on blast. There’s no neatly wrapped solution to tie up her essay — because her school hasn’t devised one.

8. ‘Gen Z Teaches History’ Is a Viral TikTok Series That Mixes Learning and Humor

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo

Amid stressful and — should I just say it? — depressing news about the teaching profession, Lauren Cella has carved out a delightful corner of the internet where she puts her own humorous twist on history lectures. “Gen Z Teaches History” is her Millennial take on how today’s high school students might deliver their own classroom lectures one day, with youthful slang (what’s “rizz?”) and Taylor Swift references to spare. Millions of people have watched her deliver unserious (but historically accurate) retellings of classic topics like King Henry VIII’s marital strife or the real story behind Cinco de Mayo. Cella says she’s just trying to do what the history teachers she admires have done, which is make fargone events relatable.

7. One Idea to Keep Teachers From Quitting — End the Teacher Time Crunch

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo

When Texas put together a task force to make recommendations on how to attract and keep teachers in the state, one of the solutions they came up with seemed surprisingly simple: respect their time. One study shows that under the burden of their regular job duties, grading, meetings and more, teachers work a median of 54 hours per week. But addressing the causes of this time crunch may turn out to be a complicated affair.

6. The Idea of a Teacher Salary Minimum Is Gaining Steam in Congress. Where Has This Worked?

By Emily Tate Sullivan

With lawmakers interested in attracting and keeping teachers in the classroom, the idea of setting a national $60,000 minimum salary gained some support. How’s that working out for regions where it has already been adopted? Houston ISD in Texas already offers a $61,500 salary floor, and its data shows that teacher turnover is slowing. Hiking teacher pay over the next decade is part of Maryland’s plan to become one of the best regions for education in the world. One official said that the process of getting every district in the state to a $60,000 minimum salary is partly to acknowledge the expertise educators bring, the hard work that goes into their jobs and the importance of their role to the state.

5. When a Tiny Fraction of Teachers File Most School Discipline Referrals

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, got a uniquely detailed look at student discipline data from one school district in the state, and it led to some surprising discoveries. Most strikingly, that about 5 percent of teachers were responsible for an outsized number of office disciplinary referrals. This small group of teachers doubled the rate at which Black students were sent to the front office for discipline compared to their white peers. The data revealed other findings about the grade level, experience level and races of these “top referrers.” Researchers and the school district hope to use the data to understand and provide professional development to this group of teachers, who issue 46 or more office referrals in a school year.

4. Teaching Was My Dream. Now I Wonder If It Is Stunting My Other Passions.

By Patrick Harris II

The best teachers, Harris describes in this essay, are multidimensional. They pursue their passions outside the classroom and are better for it. So Harris followed in their footsteps as a teacher who is also a podcaster, writer and speaker. But education is rigid, he writes, and it demands the whole of teachers’ time and energy. How can teachers be their best selves in a profession that seems designed to burn them out?

3. They Left Teaching in Search of a Better Life. Did They Find It?

By Emily Tate Sullivan

What do a mortgage loan officer, instructional designer and recruiter all have in common? They’re former teachers who left the profession because it had become, in a word, unsustainable. Not just the workload but the pay and toll to their well-being. While most of the people highlighted in this article said they would return to teaching if only the work environment would improve, there’s no denying that their quality of life simply is better now. Not just the pay bumps and ability to go home at 5 p.m. every weekday. One former educator says he heard more “thank yous” in the first six or seven months of his new job than all his four years of teaching.

2. These States Have the Most ‘Underqualified’ Teachers Stepping in to Fill Open Positions

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo

Piggybacking on the conversation about teacher shortages, this piece looks at the national hotspots where schools are filling positions with “underqualified” instructors — those who have provisional or emergency certifications to teach, or teachers who are assigned to classes outside their area of expertise. Just as teacher shortages look different depending on the state, researchers from Kansas State University found the rates of “underqualified” teachers vary widely based on the staffing challenges faced by each region. Tuan D. Nguyen, a professor, offered solutions that didn’t only include recruitment. Rather, he says schools also need a combination of improved pay, more respect for the profession, and decreasing turnover in the classroom.

1. What’s Lost When a Teacher Leaves a School

By Tracy Edwards

With more than 20 years of classroom teaching under her belt, Tracy Edwards has spent more than a little time thinking about the causes of teacher turnover. In this essay, she expounds upon how a teacher quitting has ripple effects that reach far beyond simply staffing a classroom. It’s an absence felt by the students, colleagues and families that have children at a school. That’s because, as Edwards explains, teachers do far more than lecture and grade papers to make sure a student is doing well. It’s the relationships they cultivate with the aforementioned groups that make the education ecosystem work. Edwards also offers solutions for education leaders to consider if they want to stop their schools’ teachers from heading for the door.

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