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Teacher shares student’s heartwarming gesture —and why it should alarm us

One Maryland teacher shared the emotional reality of back-to-school for public school teachers.
"The kids aren't getting 'worse.' We're just failing them," Ali Levasseur shared.
"The kids aren't getting 'worse.' We're just failing them," Ali Levasseur shared.Courtesy Ali Levasseur
/ Source: TODAY

As Ali Levasseur, a third grade teacher in College Park, Maryland, began preparing to head back to the classroom, she was struck by a moment that happened at the end of last school year.

Levasseur, who is heading into her seventh year of teaching, chose to share a powerful anecdote to social media about scissors.

"Last year, my entire grade 70 kids (give or take) had like 10 pairs of scissors total and if you know me, you know we are doing a project every other day, which usually call for scissors," Levasseur wrote.

She continued, "On the last day of school, one of my students gave me a ziplock bag with 5 pairs of scissors and said he used his own money at the dollar store."

Levasseur's words overlapped a photo of the scissors.

"That's the thing," she continued. "The younger generations aren't getting 'worse.' The kids aren't getting 'worse.' We're just failing them. Kids are so inherently good and pure and wholesome."

The third grade teacher then explained that kids "are like sponges" and mimic what they see.

"Right now they see hatred, unsafe schools and no one who's doing anything about it, the toxicity of social media and all that it's become," she wrote. "Just food for thought. It's only a scary time to raise kids because we're making it that way."

Courtesy Ali Levasseur

Levasseur told TODAY Parents she shared the story because she is scared.

"I am devastated at what this career that I love so endlessly has become," she said. "And I am so worried for our kids."

She said the point she wanted to make in posting was "wide ranged."

"Logging on to any form of social media you can find this toxic idea that the generations are mannerless, disrespectful and nothing like the previous generation or how they were raised," Levasseur explained, adding that children inherently want to meet expectations.

"My students who have behavior issues are usually the ones that need my love the most. Behavior is a completely learned skill (and) what you see at home, drives how you act anywhere else," Levasseur said. "Children mock, they are sponges who are constantly learning how to just 'human.' Right now they see division, hatred, a society obsessed with their internet presence." 

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Levasseur said she believes that generations are changing.

"So are our priorities as a nation," she said. "It has been made painfully clear that our children and our schools are not a priority. School shooting after school shooting, completely underfunded and underpaid professionals, a push for raising data and test scores with no support or assistance getting there."

A 2019 study revealed that thousands of Americans feel "kids these days" lack the positive attributes of older generations, and a federal report concluded that school shootings in 2020-2021 were the highest they've been in two decades.

"Every passing week, more and more is getting put on teachers' plates — with the same pay and same resources," Levasseur said. "This is not a public school system that cares about the children."

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Levasseur explained that what scares her the most is the “force at which teachers are being pushed out of the career” and that she has had nine friends leave the profession in the last two years alone.

A December 2020 survey found that stress was the number one reason why public school teachers quit their jobs, even prior to the pandemic.

“Stress was the most common reason for leaving public school teaching early — almost twice as common as insufficient pay,” the survey found. “This is corroborated by the fact that a majority of early leavers went on to take jobs with either less or around equal pay, and three in ten went on to work at a job with no health insurance or retirement benefits.”

Levasseur told TODAY that the teacher shortage "is real and it is scary."

"I say this both as a teacher and a mother of a brand new kindergartner," Levasseur told TODAY Parents. "I strongly encourage (looking up) what your local district is doing to assist with the teacher shortage. These are the most terrifying findings of all — class sizes of over 30 students with (just) one teacher, non-certified 'teachers' being hired conditionally, (and) in some places college students who have never taught are being hired as teachers."

Levasseur said that despite knowing her entire life she wanted to become a teacher, the profession is becoming "unsurvivable."

"Teachers who are really freaking good at their jobs, who care so deeply and go above and beyond for their students, are the ones being forced out of the job," Levasseur said, noting pay cuts, continuing education and out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite mounting pressures, Levasseur has prepared her classroom for another year.

"I want to create a classroom that kids want to be in, to create a community that cares about each other, and to be the safe space for as many of my students as I can," she told TODAY. "Teaching is the only job that makes all other jobs possible."