According to NPR, many states are have a difficult time attracting and retaining qualified teachers and staff. First, districts are woefully short of funds, thus they offer teachers little financial incentive and few benefits. Second, the media attacks schools and teachers vilifying them while expecting teachers to use their own time and resources to reinforce the crumbling infrastructure of education systems. Third, teaching no longer provides teachers with a creative outlet as districts are dictating every lesson, evaluation and procedure in the classroom. Fourth, teacher-training programs fail to prepare teachers with a realistic view of the difficulties teachers face with social problems, crime and dysfunctional families. Fifth, to save money, many school districts want to base teachers’ salaries on test performance. This means that teachers placed in affluent, suburban schools will earn higher salaries than those teaching in lower-socio economic, urban schools. Thus, the most challenging teaching positions will pay the least. If improving education is truly a priority, funding education, providing appropriate benefits and training teachers to instill a realistic view of the teaching profession. Finally teachers are overwhelmed with demands foisted upon schools and cost cutting methods districts have foisted upon educators making time for proper mentoring difficult.
Reason One: Funding Education
Districts are woefully under-funded and often spend their resources on palatial building and not on teacher’s salaries or benefits. Regardless, teaching has never been a lucrative career, but teachers in the past still pursued careers in education knowing they were never going to get rich. Teaching careers offered a stable career where women could work and still share the time on holidays and in the summer to raise their children as their calendars and those of their children were often the same. It offered both men and women time to explore other careers or travel the world (even though it might be in an old VW bus) and explore other hobbies and interests. The career offered great medical benefits and an opportunity to retire with both social security, and a stable retirement from the state. Unfortunately, because of cost saving methods in the school districts most of these advantages have disappeared. Many of today’s graduates cannot afford to become teachers because they are overwhelmed with educational loan payments. Fortunately for me, I graduated in the 1970’s when Lyndon Johnson’s National Defense Loans were available. If a teacher took an assignment in a Title One School, that teacher’s student loans were excused. Perhaps, the country could attract more qualified teachers if they offered to excuse the student loans of any student who chose to teach in a public school for five years or more. The overbearing costs of insurance have been passed onto the teachers. Perhaps education needs an influx of money, so educators could be offered better health insurance and retirements.
Reason Two: Respect
Teachers were once respected and admired by the public. Today, the media often villifies teaching blaming them for students’ poor performance without considering the social problems that have created the decline in academic performance. Wealthy Americans design programs that are foisted upon districts with little or no input from teachers. No one would disagree that schools need to improve, but the number of people who live below the poverty level and the influx of people who have special educational needs including special education and language skills have increased. All of these factors affect student test scores. The teaching career has become much more complicated as all of these students are mainstreamed into over-crowded classes. Without the resources and training to reach the individual needs of all these students, many teachers are leaving the profession in search of a less difficult job. For example, one of my former students told me that I had inspired her to become a teacher. After two years of working day and night to keep up with the demands, she quit and went back to law school. She is now a lawyer making four times more money while she said working considerably fewer hours. The workload, the pressure from parents and the disrespect by students were key elements in her decision to quit teaching. Teachers need the support of our community to continue in the profession. This includes the support of the press.
Reason Three: Stifling Curriculum Demands
Teaching used to be a creative outlet where teachers shared ideas and developed new methods, and assignments independently to approach a list of learning goals provided by state curriculum committees. Today, teachers are often asked to collaborate on units provided by the district or by The Gates Foundation. Teachers are expected to all teach the same lessons in the same way simultaneously and participate in the same weekly tests. This homogenous view of instruction is stifling to educators. Most teachers loved the independent feeling of creating new methodology and assignments to approach learning, but that has all been replaced with a factory version of education. Since the career is no longer personally rewarding, many teachers are leaving the profession. Yes, there are teachers who are not effective, but they are not the majority of teachers. Treat teachers as professionals. When an administrator identifies a teacher who is ineffective, eliminate that teacher. Do not treat teachers like they are all unprofessional, ineffective individuals who cannot be trusted to do their job.
Reason Four: Teacher Preparation
Many students are attracted to teaching because they imagine that teaching will be a continuation of their days as a cheerleader. They imagine that all students want to attend school and are excited to participate in all of the activities. Teaching is hard work. Teachers need a strong understanding of the horrors many students face every day before they arrive at school. Many students arrive at school hungry because their families are homeless. Many students are abused by parents or have experienced such violence in their neighborhood that they are overwhelmed. I have had a parent who called her children home because she wanted to commit suicide, surrounded by everyone she loved. I have had a student who arrived as refugee after watching his families murdered. He was not only emotionally distraught, but unequipped with the language skills or the cultural knowledge to be successful in his new home. I have had students who were fourth generation gang members. The horror stories that most teachers could tell are endless and grotesque. The students who experience these situations do not behave in class like many others. Simply because they are disruptive or distracted, only means that teachers must work harder to reach them. When some novice teachers discover that teaching these hard to reach students is part of the reality, they often request that those students be sent to other more experienced teachers or they leave the profession. Teaching preparation programs need to prepare students for the reality of public education. Yes, there are still the cheerleaders who join every club and love school, but they are not the only students in the school. If teacher preparation programs allowed students to interact with the real world problems before their first teaching profession, those teachers who have an unrealistic perspective of education might choose a more appropriate career before they damage these fragile children.
Reason Five: Connecting Salary to Test Performance
Basing teacher’s salary on test performance is counter-productive because the students who are the most challenging to teach are housed in schools that are the most likely to have the lowest scores and those scores are the less likely to improve quickly. According to the Center for Public Education, although most states differ in their definition and approach to English Language Learners (ELL), most agree that it takes at least six years for these students to become proficient in English. This means that they are not going to show significant growth in test scores until their language skills to improve. As a result, we are rewarding teachers for taking the easiest jobs in the most affluent neighborhoods where parents are involved in their student’s education and often pay for additional training beyond their education in the school. If we are going to attract teachers to teach in challenging schools, we need to pay them accordingly.
Reason Six: Time
Teachers are overwhelmed with the demands foisted on schools by outside organizations and cost-saving methods leaving little time to properly assist new recruits. Teachers have been asked to employ new technologies, new teaching methods and a new, demanding curriculum while many districts are taking teachers’ consultation periods: thus, teaching more students with fewer teachers and less insurance costs. Adding extra pressure to over-worked teachers means all planning and correcting is done at home. As a result, an eight hour a day job becomes a twelve to fifteen hour a day job. All of this leave little time to properly supervise or mentor young recruits.