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Illinois Education Association President Discusses Challenges For Teachers, Students During Pandemic

Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin takes questions from reporters during a press conference Tuesday morning.
Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin takes questions from reporters during a press conference Tuesday morning.

The pandemic has reduced the number of students who want to become teachers.

That's according to the president of the Illinois Education Association, Kathi Griffin, as the organization releases its third annual State of Education report, based on a poll of 1,000 Illlinois adults conducted last month.

Griffin said the lack of interest from students adds to an already-existing teacher shortage.

"When you have a profession over many years that has been in a way blamed for many of society's problems, you're not going to have as many of our students wanting to go into that profession," said Griffin.

Griffin said teachers and teacher candidates need more support through measures such as an increased minimum salary. 51% of respondents to the poll said Illinois teachers are being paid too little.

"They need cooperation, they need value," said Griffin. "They need to be recognized and honored for the amazing work that they're doing."

The Illinois State Board of Education reports around 4,495 position vacancies for the current school year. That's up from around 2,007 unfilled positions four years ago.

Griffin said teachers will be ready to support students as a return to classrooms takes place in the coming months.

"I think one of the misconceptions is that students are not learning this year," said Griffin. "Students are learning, they might be learning a little bit differently, and they might be learning items, things that we didn't think they were going to learn at this stage."

Griffin is also advocating for enforceable guidelines for health and safety even after the COVID-19 pandemic. She said students and educators alike shouldn't have to fear consequences for missing work when they're sick.

Griffin said while guidelines have been in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, those metrics have not been enforced.

She also said schools need to enforce the safety mechanisms already in place, such as social distancing and mask wearing. The CDC recently changed its guidelines for social distancing in schools, reducing the requirement in settings such as classrooms from six feet to three feet.

"Everybody needs to follow those safety protocols," said Griffin. "That's what the science tells us."

She said in the future schools need to have a clear idea of when they can stay open and when they need to move to remote learning.

"The focus here is to make sure that not only our teachers, but most importantly our kids and the families that all of us go home to, remain safe and healthy when we have a public health crisis," said Griffin.

In the poll, health and safety ranked as the top concern for public schools to address as the pandemic comes to an end.

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Copyright 2021 WGLT

Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.