Georgia teachers face staff shortages, banned concepts in new school year

education bills protest georgia state capitol

On the Tuesday edition of “Closer Look,” WABE education reporter Martha Dalton discusses school district challenges, teacher shortages and Georgia legislation restricting the discussion of several racial and historical concepts in classrooms.

The pandemic’s effects on in-person learning have contributed to a widespread learning gap in the state. Learning loss has become evident in standardized testing performance in several districts, leading many to discuss allocating resources to support students’ return to grade-level performance.

The state’s “Unmask Georgia Students Act,” which prevents the enforcement of mask mandate for students, has also borne uncertainty in the coming school year amid rising coronavirus cases in districts across the state.

As teacher retirement rates in the state continue to outpace applications of new trainees, some Georgia districts have attempted to appease teacher and substitute shortages with increased pay and incentives. Fayette County has implemented a program in which bus drivers can substitute as classroom stand-ins for teachers during planning periods.

New Georgia law provisions have been called vague and confusing by educators.

The law, which bans the teaching or discussion of nine key concepts — such as the discussion of the U.S. as fundamentally a racist nation — calls into question the teaching of root causes of segregation and Jim Crow laws, reaching beyond historical narrative and into English literature education.

“If you’re in English class and some kind of historical event [or] the issue of race comes up, it also applies,” Dalton said of the legislation. “It’s across the board.”

This legislation accompanies Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent anti-trans youth law, which prevents transgender girls from competing in middle and high school sports.