Sunday, July 26, 2015

Teacher "Shortage" Reflections

Assembling my recent post on teacher shortages gave me a lot to reflect on, but since the piece was already a gazillion words long, I saved that reflection for another post. Here is that post.

In no particular order, here are some of the things that jumped out as I did my national tour.

Spin Is a Thing

I deliberately searched through general press coverage. I didn't dig deep for True Facts, and I stayed away from direct reporting by teachers' unions. So what I found yesterday was a better reflection of what people are saying than what is necessarily true. I don't have to tell you those aren't always the same. Statements about shortages fell largely into these categories--

* OMGZ!! We have barely any teachers and we must must MUST certify anything that moves as a teacher right after we invite as many Teach for America folks we can find into the state.

* Look at that teacher shortage! It's proof that the people who run our state suck with a sucky suckiness that really sucks.

* We want to have good schools. We are paying attention to what's happening, and we're trying to make smart, responsible choices about how to handle things.

The third group seems to lack a certain sense of dramatic crisis mode in their press coverage. The other two, not so much (and I say that knowing that group two includes people who share many of my concerns and allegiances about education).

I suspect that this relates to how some of the results came in. Many people expressed amazement that Ohio is not talking about teacher shortages; that may be because charters really have increased demand or it may be because running for president is easier if you don't have one more education crisis at home. Likewise, folks let me know that many parts of California are wielding the layoff ax with verve, in a way that would belie any claims of shortage. If there's a disconnect between reality and reportage, that's a story, but it's not one that this citizen hack faux journalist had the time to run down, yet.

Teacher Diversity

Only two states were talking about it. Why this issue keeps falling off the front burner is beyond me. It's critical that our teaching force shift to reflect the new reality of diversity in our student population, but it's just not happening, and nobody in a position to make a fuss is doing much about it. In all the talk of recruitment and retention, nobody is talking about getting non-white, non-female teachers into classrooms and keeping them there-- and we should be talking about it a great deal.

Shortages Are Not All Bad

Teacher shortages aren't so bad if you're a teacher looking for work. And relatively mild ones can be a help.

Here in PA teacher training programs are drying up and shutting down because of low, low, low enrollment. That low enrollment is undoubtedly related to the fact that everybody knows a teacher who can't get a job, or who had a job that she lost when the district shut down a school because of financials pressures created by our genius leaders in Harrisburg. Should we turn a corner some day (hey, it could happen), we're going to go from teacher glut to teacher shortage very quickly, and once that happens, it takes years for college students to get the memo that, yes, there are teaching jobs again.

So a little bit of shortage equals an encouraging job market that helps draw people into the field (assuming, of course, that you haven't North Carolinaed everything up and made teaching hopelessly untenable as a career).

The Substitute Thing

I should have known. I mean, we're in substitute trouble here even though we ought to be loaded with teachers who want to get a job.

This is going to need its own piece, because it's not clear what it means. Some writers consider it a sign of teacher shortages. In my area, I consider it a sign of two things-- 1) that no human being not living in a van by the river could ever live on sub pay and 2) the former sub pool of nice housewifey ladies with teaching credentials who wanted to make a little grocery money on top of their husband's real salary-- that group is now living on Hippogryph Lane, just past the unicorn farm.

But it is clearly a national issue, with all sorts of implications, and none of them are good. I'll definitely get back to this.

The Real Shortage

It's not teachers-- it's working conditions conducive to maintaining the nation's teacher force. If we discovered that our armed forces were comprised of six skinny guys with slingshots, we'd want to know why recruiting was broken, and we'd try to fix it. We wouldn't try to punish the six guys for not being one hundred bulky man-mountains. We wouldn't try to make it harder to legitimately get into the armed forces while simultaneously picking up the slack by grabbing random people off the street. And we wouldn't try to change the job description of a soldier (Anybody who can make a mean face should do) so that we could fill up empty spots without paying any attention to what we were filling them with.

As I've said many times, it is mysterious that so many free market acolytes don't seem to get this. You offer what the market requires you to offer. Instead, many states are trying to bite the invisible hand that has ceased to feed them.


  1. I would add something about the rural/urban dynamic to the list. In Colorado, for example, recruiting teachers to Denver and recruiting teachers to Deer Trail are two very different problems.

  2. I believe there are a few reasons why non-whites aren't entering teaching. One is what you've already alluded to, teaching just doesn't seem terribly lucrative or fulfilling right now. But another reason is that the forces that could be encouraging/goading policymakers to do something about it, DC elite civil rights organizations, have decided that testing and charters is the hill they want to die on. In other words, it's not lucrative for these civil rights groups to advocate for things like loan forgiveness for black and brown students to goose the incentive to teach, so they just don't do it. Every well-heeled group is beholden to what wealthy donors want, not what's needed, as you know. One countervailing group that could and should be doing more on this front is unions. They pay lip service to recruitment of black and brown teachers but they seldom put money where their mouth is, which is problematic. Instead, they throw all their money at supporting terrible candidates.

  3. Put me solidly in group 2 -- my state's attitude towards education (the governor and legislature) sucks with sucky suckiness.

    So...I'll add another reason for the teacher/substitute shortage as well as the general tendency for "reformers" to do anything to kill public education...


    You said it in one of your post about subs (The Substitute Shortage:

    "...the solution costs money, and we don't wanna..."

  4. A little axiom from another old curmudgeon: "The further from the classroom the policy is formulated, the more damage it does." I think we are seeing this play out in shortages.