As the school year begins, a common thread in news stories about education is the shortage of teachers. California, Indiana, Arizona, Kansas, and scores of local districts appear to have more teaching positions than teachers willing to take them. This is hardly a new phenomenon and stories like these have appeared almost every year for a long time, but there are some factors which give this year’s concerns more weight.
From funding pensions to evaluations based on standardized test scores to convictions for cheating to the repeal of collective bargaining laws, bad news for public education teachers has become commonplace. Even if the reality is not as dire as the media portrays, teachers feel that they get unfairly blamed for many of society’s ills. My experience teaching for thirty-three years in two different Illinois school districts would suggest that schools reflect the towns and cultures in which they exist, but it seems that more and more the public sees schools as the source for what is wrong with our country. And a siege mentality rarely contributes to a teaching staff that is enthusiastic, creative, or committed.
I’ve written about it before and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it many times again, but the factor most positively correlated (and thus most important) in students’ success in public schools is how much education their parents had, which leads to the other most positively correlated factor: parental income. Those correlations have been documented over and over. And it hardly flies in the face of common sense—if you’ve got a solid job and a good income because your education made you qualified for the position you have attained, you’re going to be much more motivated to make sure your kids follow that same path. Have a crappy job (or none at all) because your school was so bad you dropped out your junior year, and it’s less likely you’ll care much about how your children approach their schooling since you fundamentally doubt schools’ ability to provide anything remotely resembling “education” or leading to better opportunities. This horrible cycle leads to the disasters that some school systems have become, where even the good kids are deprived of much of a chance to achieve.
Not surprisingly, the more education and money people have in our society, the more willing they are to spend and support their local schools, especially when their children attend those schools. It then follows that the teachers in those school districts are compensated better, the quality of teaching is higher, and little difficulty ever surfaces in finding qualified candidates for any vacancies which occur. Of course there are exceptions to this generalization, especially the hundreds of thousands of dedicated, hard-working teachers in some of those poorer communities who battle on in the face of low wages and lack-luster community support. But as droves of baby boomer teachers retire, many of those school districts are discovering that the next generation of potential educators is less enthusiastic about the recipe of poor pay and little respect. Coupled with the barrage of bad press the teaching profession has endured over the last decade, it should hardly surprise anyone that we currently have shortages in many parts of the country. And that dearth of quality candidates will only get worse as more politicians move in the direction of rolling back teacher rights and salaries, while demanding standardized test score increases and dictating how teachers should teach.
The long-term solutions to public education’s woes, then, seem to be two relatively simple changes: One: Help parents to value their schools more by insisting their children show up ready to learn. And two: Make the teaching profession more attractive to college students through increased esteem/rights and decent salaries so that the best possible young people choose education for their careers. Okay, then I guess we’re done here; all education problems solved? I wish, but we’ll be back next week anyway.
In the meantime, you can check out the plethora of this season’s shortage stories to see what you make of it. I have several public education notices that Google News collects for me every day. The number of these shortage articles is what first attracted my attention: Below, you will find a sampling of these stories I read over about a month and a half—I stopped collecting them about two weeks ago, but they continue to pile up on my daily lists. To help you in your reading, I’ve grouped them by the scope of the teacher shortages: National, State, and Local/City.
State (Links listed by state experiencing shortage): North Carolina, Arizona, California, Kansas, Utah, Indiana, Indiana (again), (more) Indiana, (yet again) Indiana, Oklahoma, (another) Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma (for the second time), New Mexico, and Alaska;
Believe it or not, there were many other stories along these lines on-line during this time period. If you’d like to check out even more, just go to Google News and do a “teacher shortage” search. If you’re searching for more public education insights, you could try my e-book, Snowflake Schools. Excerpts can be found at http://www.snowflake-schools.com/snowflake-schools-the-book.html.