See what the 2021 WV Teacher of the Year has to say

Published:March 5, 2022

My name is Brian Casto and I’m the 2022 West Virginia Teacher of the Year and I’m sounding the alarm about the teacher shortage. For the past two years, our state, our nation, and our worlds have been flipped upside down. “Mandates”, “masks”, “protocols”, and other vocabulary like “essential workers” have become part of our lexicon.

When the pandemic hit West Virginia, our education system already lacked support from the state legislature. Quality educators were leaving the classroom. Now many lawmakers seem to feel that they need to waste time creating bills that hurt educators and students. Maybe it’s retaliation for a strike that seems so far back in the rearview mirror that it’s hard to remember, or maybe they are largely out of touch. Many haven’t been in a classroom since the Reagan administration.

Regardless, we are at a pivotal moment in education. There are so many successes to share about public education. We have a well-educated faculty that truly cares for students. Though educators are passionate about their work, passion doesn’t pay the bills and passion doesn’t extinguish anxiety and burnout. Teachers are leaving the classroom in record numbers, shortages are impacting quality education in our state, and now is the time to make history by pouring resources into public education not focusing on educational issues that are far less urgent.

Before the pandemic, teachers were already leaving the profession. They were seeking a wage that can support a family. They were seeking a career that didn’t have the disrespect often associated with teaching.  However, they didn’t leave because they weren’t good at their jobs and didn’t leave because they didn’t care about students.  Those of us who have stayed continue to carry the weight. We continue to fight for rights of educators and students, but we are tired. We want the best for students but to have the best for students, we must have qualified educators that are trusted as the professionals that they are.

Our current solution is to water down requirements to become an educator instead of paying a competitive wage.  This is only going to provide temporary relief to our shortages.  Lowering expectations and certification requirements only cheapens children’s education. It is a disservice to student education and limits their potential.

There is a request by the Governor to provide a raise to state employees. This is a much-needed raise and is a great step in the right direction, but it is only a small one. Inflation has grown 7% in the last year alone and the proposed 5% raise is based on the median income of employees, however this does not move West Virginia closer to pay to that of surrounding states in our region.  We have a chance as a state to not just keep up with some of the inflation due to the pandemic but move above and beyond that.

This isn’t a money grab, its a plea to keep qualified teachers in our state. Currently there are more than 1,200 vacancies in our state filled with people who are not certified. Imagine going to a place of business and expecting the same quality product from someone not fully qualified. I’ve spoken to lawmakers, I have presented the following scenario. Imagine taking your car to a mechanic and the manager says we can fix it, but the technician is just filling in and read the manual before coming in today. I highly doubt the customer would expect to receive proper service. So why do we ignore the problem? Why are we not addressing and remedying the high rate of burnout? Why are we not concerned that college of education enrollment is dropping? For every teacher retiring, there will not be one to replace them.

Once teacher pay is comparable to that of surrounding areas, expectations could be increased as well.  Teachers are contracted to work 200 days a year and yes, I chose this career knowing it wouldn’t command the same pay as some other careers with the same level of education, but the pay inequality is egregious. Similar degrees command an average of 20% higher pay and that doesn’t include bonuses, raises for performance, overtime, and promotions. Sadly, for teachers the only way to see a decent change in pay is to leave the classroom for more contract days at the board of education or become an administrator. Both options pull great educators out of the classroom. Research shows that the number one factor in determining the success of a student inside of a school is a qualified teacher.

Education is essential and during the pandemic at the drop of a pin educators revamped instruction to virtual as if they were experts on the matter. Despite proving time and time again how professional and essential we are, the Republican supermajority of the legislature continues to belittle teachers with bills that change how sick days are given, bills that give opportunities for teachers to have concealed weapons at school, and bills to make it easier for students who have attendance issues to be home schooled with less transparency at home.  These issues should not be one side against the other.  In fact, teachers and other school employees are far more likely to get sick than other professionals because of the number of students they are around each day. And as far reaching as their agenda has been, their biggest overreach is just beginning, as they propose a constitutional amendment through a vote in the upcoming November elections that would also give them the keys to the state school board further politicizing education. Where does it end? When will common sense and the greater good outweigh political agenda?  When will the people of West Virginia demand a better future for our children that starts with the foundations built in the classroom?

The kitchen has burned down and rather than fixing it, lawmakers are adding an addition out back. They know what is not working but are not dedicated to helping. Rather than focus on issues that will provide support for public education, the legislature has chosen to focus on their own political agenda, perhaps to collect their votes in the next election. Whatever the reason, public education is not better off after this legislative session and hasn’t been for decades.  If neglected, West Virginia will suffer. Our best and brightest students will continue to earn their degrees in our state and use it elsewhere. Maybe the Promise scholarship could be renamed “I promise to use this degree in West Virginia” to help keep our future here.

According to recent statistics released by the West Virginia Department of Education in 2022, teacher vacancies have gone from 600 in 2015 to 1,196 in 2021. Furthermore, research has also said that 32% of teachers leave the profession in their first four years. Clearly students enrolled in education programs are leaving the area in search of higher pay and better benefits.

I love my job and I’m blessed to have a career that has such a positive impact on others but for many educators like myself, it’s not always enough to keep people in the classroom.

If West Virginia is going to move forward, education can’t be ignored. I know the past two years have been hard on everyone. As a state, we are all worn out but I’m calling on teachers, service personnel, parents, and every West Virginian to act. I want my own kids and all students in West Virginia to have a bright future. Let’s do something to help our students. Join me in supporting education both for shareholders and stakeholders. The time is now! If students benefit, we ALL benefit.

Maybe it is making a phone call to your representatives or maybe it’s your vote. Whatever it may look like for each person, it’s going to take more than state employees to drive this needed change. Education benefits everyone, but a watered-down education from unqualified teachers will not help every student reach their potential.

These views are my own and do not reflect that of the West Virginia Department of Education or Cabell County Schools.


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