As the Great Resignation expands to teachers, Labor Day offers a reminder of how unions can build—and reclaim—the democratic commons.

By Jacob Goodwin, The Progressive Magazine

Labor Day is upon us once again and, while there is a tight labor market all across sectors, the pain is especially acute in public schools.

Teachers on strike holding various signs

In February, the National Education Association conducted a survey of its three million members and found that 90 percent of respondents felt that burnout was a “serious problem,” while more than half of members reported thinking about leaving the profession “earlier than planned.”

This immediate shortage of teachers is paired with long-term concerns, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting that there will be an 8 percent increase in the number of high school teachers that are needed by 2030. But more immediately, the current teacher shortage is the product of an orchestrated attack on public spaces that, unfortunately, gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I teach social studies to six graders at a public school in New Hampshire, which in July 2021 joined the ranks of at least five other states that have restricted classroom conversations about race and gender. Despite what their proponents claim, these laws are clear political ploys designed with the express purpose of stopping honest conversations about history in schools by intimidating teachers.

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