Nationally — teacher preparation programs have seen a 30% decline in enrollment at a time when most states are seeing a mass exodus of teachers via retirement. You would think — given the job opportunities, that teaching would be an attractive field for young people to consider when entering college.
You really have to ask yourself the question — why or what about teaching has become so unattractive that it deters college students from considering becoming a teacher?
What has happened to the rewarding field that may not have paid the most money — but was stable, included great healthcare and had a solid retirement system?
Imagine for a moment the college advisor trying to sell teaching as a profession to a 19 year old student? Spend an extra year in college because you need a dual major — one in education and one in the specific field your going to teach that will likely add to your already crushing student debt. You will be asked to pass multiple exams testing your knowledge and skill in teaching and if you pass those assessments — you can hope to get a job that starts at minimum $10,000-$15,000 less than your 4-year degreed counterparts. Then — if your lucky not to get laid off during district budget cuts or during the next recession — you can maybe retire at age 65 with half the benefits of those that came before you who retired at age 55.
Let’s not forget the increased scrutiny of teachers fueled by politicians, the media, the right and left wing zealots — erosion of tenure protections and our need to find a scapegoat for societal ills. It is ironic that politicians insist on accountability for teachers by holding them hostage to the performance of students — but those same politicians are not held accountable for the social conditions their own policies create or fail to alleviate.
So — how do we attract the best and the brightest to do one of the most vital jobs in this country?
The solution to this problem is complicated. It is not simply about economics — raising teachers pay is only half the answer.
The real solution to this problem of recruitment is “respect.” Yes — I said it — teachers deserve more respect for the job they do every day educating kids. It is a tough job. Teachers are expected to wear all kinds of hats — surrogate parents, social worker, counselor, motivator, leader, collaborator, moral authority, creativity expert, experts on what they teach, and the list goes on and on. We expect teachers to be all things for all kids. Not only is this nearly impossible — great teachers effortlessly manage those expectations and more often than not reach those super-human expectations on a daily basis.
We routinely disparage and marginalized teachers in all kinds of ways that fail to give them the respect as professionals they deserve. It starts with the way we create educational policy in this country. It makes sense for me that professional educators should create educational policy, but we all know it’s elected politicians that set educational policy — and thank you to those politicians who implemented misguided and often harmful policies in an effort to reform education.
We marginalize teachers when we allow parents to completely disregard a teachers expertise. Some parents have this notion that because they went to school they know better than the teacher — or — worse yet because they hold advanced degrees that somehow they know better than the teachers who are with the kids day in and day out. The audacity of some parents is incredulous and teachers generally do not fight back but simply smile and persuasively weave in what they need to say to that parent about their child’s progress or lack thereof. It is unfortunate that some parents seek to blame the teacher for their own children’s shortcomings when they ought to be forging a partnership with that teacher to grow and develop the child.
We deskill the professional teacher by telling them what to teach, when to teach it, with teacher proof materials — then we wonder why kids don’t learn and teachers fail to innovate? As we have ramped up testing that has thwarted diversity in teaching methods — because only a few methods can adequately insure passage on a standardized test and since my evaluation is tied to that assessment teachers are unwilling to diversify teaching methods for fear of student failure on the assessment and that deskills and marginalizes teachers.
I could go on and on how we minimize and distort the job of teaching — it happens all the time in all kinds of ways Sometimes it’s subtle and other times it is outright overt, teachers themselves can be complicit with things they do — but in the end this not only does this hampers the students we serve — it makes teaching doubly difficult as teachers fight battles on all fronts.
In spite of all this marginalizing of the profession and the hoops one must pass through to become a teacher — we still have outstanding young people choose this challenging career each and every day. We need our best and brightest students to choose to want to be a teacher — because teaching is still a noble profession that profoundly impacts kids each and every day! Give them some RESPECT and maybe we might get our best and brightest to choose teaching as a career.