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Society will pay a heavy price if it does not lessen the burden on teachers

Think your job is stressful? Imagine what it must be like to be responsible for the mental, physical and academic wellbeing of 20 or so children at least five days a week, for 9 months of every year.

“You’re a first responder. You’re a first reporter. If there’s an issue in the home, you are sometimes the only chance a kid has at love, at getting food that day, at maybe getting a warm and safe place to be that day. The scope of the job is huge right now,” said Jessica Salfia, a high school teacher in Martinsburg, W.Va.

There are politicians desperate to tell teachers what and how they can teach who at the same time are now suggesting those teachers should also be armed, to protect their students.

The meddling, fear and increasing expectations are taking a toll.

Constant stress “interferes with their ability to function, and it also interferes with students’ ability to learn,” said Tish Jennings, a University of Virginia education professor specializing in teacher stress and social-emotional learning. “So when things like this happen, the school shootings, it shuts everybody down. It’s very hard to learn when you’re afraid for your life.”

Though teachers’ commitment to educating students is unwavering, the atmosphere in schools has changed dramatically in the past 23 years or so.

“This is the only job I can imagine doing,” Salfia said. “But it is also the hardest …”

We’re seeing the price of that toll here locally as well.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors, superintendent Vance Varner told the board that the teacher shortage — both full-time and substitute — is real. He also said it is having a major impact on not only the district’s ability to fill teaching vacancies, but on the district’s mission to provide a top-notch education for each of its students because teaching standards may need to be relaxed in order to be able to hire enough people.

As lawmakers, education officials, law enforcement, mental health professionals and families struggle to find a way to stop attacks on our schools, they must avoid making the load even heavier for teachers. Salfia put it best when she said, “None of us are built for this.”

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