Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why It's Important To Say There Is No Teacher Shortage

I've been saying it. Tim Slekar has been saying it. Other people who aren't even directly tied to teaching have been saying it.

There is no teacher shortage.

There's a slow-motion walkout, a one-by-one exodus, a piecemeal rejection of the terms of employment for educators in 2019.

Why is it important to keep saying this? Why keep harping on this point?

Because if you don't correctly identify the problem, you will not correctly identify a solution (see also every episode of House).

It's not lupus.
"We've got a teacher shortage," leads us in the wrong direction. It assumes that, for some reason, there just aren't enough teachers out there in the world, like arguing there aren't enough blue-eyed people or enough people with six toes. It assumes that "teacher" is some sort of solid genetic state that either exists or does not, and if there aren't enough of them, well, shrug, whatcha gonna do?

"We've got a teacher shortage," argues that we've had the meat widget equivalent of a crop failure. The drought and the dust storms were just so bad this year that we didn't get a full harvest of teachers. And when the harvest is slow, what can we do except look for substitutes?

That's where teacher shortage talk takes us-- to a search for teacher substitutes. Maybe we can just lower the bar. Only require a college degree in anything at all. Louisiana is just the most recent state to decide to lower the bar-- maybe we can just let anyone who had lousy college grades but still got a job doing something, well, maybe we can make that person a teacher.

Or maybe we can substitute computers for teachers. A few hundred students with a "mentor" and a computer would be just as good as one of those teachers that we're short of, anyway, right?

We need to stop talking about a "teacher shortage" because that kind of talk takes our eyes off the real problem.

Teaching has become such unattractive work that few people want to do it.

This is actually good news, because it means that we can actually do something about it. The resistance to doing so is certainly very human-- if we convince ourselves that a problem in our lives is something that just happened to us, then it's not our fault. Unfortunately, that also means we have no power. Stan Lee told us that with great power comes great responsibility, but the converse is also true-- with great responsibility comes great power, so when we accept the responsibility, we get some power that comes with it.

Anyway. The most obvious answer folks land on is "Offer them more money," and that is certainly an Economics 101 answer. If you have a job that people don't want to do, offer more money to do it. If teaching paid $500,000 a year, there wouldn't be an unfilled job in the country. But as the #RedForEd walkouts remind us, money isn't the whole issue.

Respect. Support. The tools necessary to do a great job. Autonomy. Treating people like actual functioning adults. These are all things that would make teaching jobs far more appealing. I've often wondered how much job satisfaction you could add by giving teachers actual personal offices, some space of their own. These are all things that any school district could add, on their own, almost immediately (well, maybe not the offices).

There are other factors that make the job less attractive. The incessant focus on testing. The constant stream of new policies crafted by people who couldn't do a teacher's job for fifteen minutes. The huge workload, including a constant mountainous river of stupid paperwork (is there any wonder why special ed positions are among the hardest to fill). The moves to deprofessionalize the work. The national scale drumbeat of criticism and complaint and repetitively insisting that schools suck, teachers suck, it all sucks.

The continued pretense that there is some sort of deep mystery about why teaching jobs are hard to fill, as if it's just an a mystery wrapped in an enigma covered with puzzle sauce. Shrugging and saying, "Well, there's just a teacher shortage," is a way for everyone responsible, from the building administrators who do a lousy job of taking care of their people all the way up through legislators who continue to beat down public education, to pretend innocence, to say innocently, "Well, it's not like there's anything I can do about it."

And, we should note, this all piles on top of more specific problems, like the dire need to get Brown and Black teachers in the classroom. Again, folks just shrug and say, "Well, you know, there just aren't that many teachers of color" as if that's because of some act of God.

We know exactly why so many teaching jobs are hard to fill. But the folks with power would rather not bother exerting the effort to actually fix the problem. After all, it would be hard, and expensive, and anyway, why go to so much trouble over a bunch of whiny women. Even after being dragged to some level of understanding by teachers, many legislators have turned away and gone back to denial.

"We have a teacher shortage," is a fig leaf with which we are trying to cover the Grand Canyon, but many folks are only too happy to play along rather than rock the boat. Because "disruption" is only good for some folks.

So don't say "We have a teacher shortage." Say "we can't convince qualified people to take this job": or "we won't try to make these jobs attractive enough to draw in qualified people." Stop pretending this is some act of God; even the dust bowl turned out to be the result of bad human choices and not nature's crankiness. If we start talking about what-- and who-- is really responsible, perhaps we can fix the problem-- but only if we start with the correct diagnosis..

28 comments:

  1. Money/salary increases do help AND so does some autonomy in the job Teachers are administrators of their classrooms! Treat them that way! More money is spent buying and checking tests than is paid to teachers. Respect and trust need to be part of the package! Right now, test results are used to evaluate teachers! This is nonsense. The author/speaker above is correct when he says "we can't convince qualified people to take the job!"

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  2. Amen. Hear that Hoosiers. Our own state "leaders" caused this. Two billion in the bank of your tax dollars and they say they can't afford a raise without raising taxes. I call BS.

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  3. I sure would like to know where teachers are fleeing to. My field (legal) is getting grimmer, harder to get into and less lucrative. I'd like to get out, but I'm not seeing any greener grass in other fields.

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  4. "...if we convince ourselves that a problem in our lives is something that just happened to us, then it's not our fault. Unfortunately, that also means we have no power. Stan Lee told us that with great power comes great responsibility, but the converse is also true-- with great responsibility comes great power, so when we accept the responsibility, we get some power that comes with it."

    I guess I'm straying far from your point, but I wish someone would explain that concept to the Democrats. Even though the Mueller report has said there was no evidence of collusion, the Dems are still pushing "Da Russkies did it", rather than looking in the mirror at the zillions of their own failures. At the rate we're going, they're going to make the same mistakes all over again and we're looking at another four years of Trump.

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    1. Love the way you turned this into a Trump rally...way to totally evade the point of the article.

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    2. Good to see no one responding. This is a bot. Textbook comment--completely without merit--meant to change the topic from one thing we're fighting about to something else that divides us even more. No critical thinking person who claims to care about people would post something like this in a well-reasoned article about how we need to start thinking differently to better serve US children. Goodbye, bot.

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    3. "Good to see no one responding."

      Except you. Twice. Glad to know I got under your skin

      And, no, I'm not a bot. Peter knows that.

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    4. BTW, kind of ironic, dontcha think, for someone posting as "Unknown" to accuse someone else of being a bot. That's such a typical Democratic response to any criticism of the Democratic Party that maybe we should wonder who is the bot after all.

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  5. This is well spoken and accurate. Likev you I have been saying this for years. I left the classroom 15 years ago for the reasons stated. Not money, although I always thought Teachers were grossly underpaid money was not my reason. I left reluctantly feeling I could no longer handle the lack of support from the school corporation, parents, and community. We had and still have Governors and a legislature intent on dismantling Public Schools and replacing them with Private and so-called Charter Schools. Our State and Federal Governments refuse to meet with or listen to actual teachers. The wring their hands, say there's a crisis, and form a committee of non educaters to study the problem for another year.

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  6. One commenter asked where the teachers go when they leave. I don't know about all of them, but I do know in my Defense Department career, my last three deputies were former teachers.

    They received better pay, better opportunities for advancement, similar benefits, more respect.

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  7. Too right. Teaching is a profession, and teachers should be trained, treated, respected and rewarded like professionals.

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  8. I left Oklahoma for Alaska

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    1. I had that opportunity and didn't do it because it was so far.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. This post hits the nail on the head. Having an office is one of those unimaginable luxuries that really should't be all that big of a deal. I teach in a relatively new building, and we originally had offices for teachers in the construction plans. It was no great shock when, as soon as the budget started getting tight, the office plans were the first to get tossed. Now we are struggling just to find a place to keep a fridge for our bag lunches. These little insults and indignities seem petty to non-educators, but they pile up into a mountain of frustration over time.

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  11. brunettechicagogalMay 3, 2019 at 6:21 PM

    And everything you outlined about why teaching is unattractive -- it's documented in the research that policymakers keep ignoring. Richard Ingersoll from UPenn has been researching teacher attrition for years.

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  12. Great article except: "Maybe we can just lower the bar. Only require a college degree in anything at all. Louisiana is just the most recent state to decide to lower the bar-- maybe we can just let anyone who had lousy college grades but still got a job doing something, well, maybe we can make that person a teacher."
    Alternative certification is valid. Why take a crack at people who are trying? We're in this together, aren't we?

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    1. I teach career switchers, as well as 'regular teacher-tracked' teachers. My career switchers are passionate about their teaching careers because they have been in other fields while craving to teach. They are biologists, agriculturalists, psychologists with PhDs, engineers, former military career people, editors, etc. They know content way better than most. They have excelled in their fields, but, they desired to teach. Some take pay cuts just to teach. Alternative certification needs to be applauded. I will put every career switcher I've ever had against the traditional route teachers. I have the evidence to support my statement. Yes, we're in this together, pamrieth. Thank you for speaking up, too.

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  13. Exactly. Reasons why I retired before the end of the school year and could not recommend the profession to my nephew. Even as I knew he would have been a fabulous teacher. He graduated with a 4.0 and started in his first professional job; making more than I made after 22 years of experience. I don't begrudge him. Just sad for our profession.

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  14. The article is "spot on." The lack of respect, autonomy, and support have all combined to make a perfect storm of teachers leaving the profession. The people who are making decisions haven't been in classrooms for decades or they are Betsy Devos-rich enough to "persuade" presidents to hire them as the Secretary of Education. At this point, I'm not sure that you could raise the pay enough to encourage people to return to teaching. My husband is retiring this year because he couldn't continue to work in a climate where he wasn't allowed to do what's best for his students. It's a shame because he was a great teacher and kids will suffer when he leaves the profession. I have 8-9 more years and I am praying that I can make it.

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  15. As a retired professional teacher I have been warning anyone who would listen that this crisis was coming. My elected Representatives have ignored me because I wasn’t a Right-to-Life, Tea Party, Corporate Republican. Didn’t make what I was saying incorrect or less devastating. It is sad to have watched this train wreck coming and be unable to stop it. Now our children, grand children, and nation will pay the cost of what this short sighted bunch has done to us.

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  16. The problem is even bigger than this. Education is no longer a process: it is treated as a product. And as a product, students and parents are consumers. The teacher is reduced to being a salesperson and management rarely sides with the salesperson because "the customer is always right."

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  17. Alaska is not the place for teaching. Deteriorating pay, benefits and retirement packages while living in one of the most expensive states in the union. Add to that 30-35 students per Elementary classroom and 40+ in Secondary classrooms. This is what happens after 7 years of 15-20 million dollar budget cuts per year in Anchorage. Of course the testing has increased.

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  18. Thank you. This article is spot on. This manufactured "teacher shortage" has been created by the powers that be. We are not the enemy. We have chosen this profession for more than just pay as many of the recent #RedforEd actions have shown. Again, thank you.

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  19. LOL. Educators have completely alienated two-thirds of the population, the productive two-thirds of the population at that, and are now wondering why their own incompetence is inevitably collapsing. It's hilarious to see.

    Maybe if fewer neurotic, middle-age Communist (#RedForEd!!!!) females were in the classroom, schools would function better. You've pushed out nearly all men and conservatives. That's a big talent pool to draw from. It's the side of the talent pool that would make sure kids could read, write, and do math without shuffling them through the system and onto the next grade when it's harmful to the students to do so. It's the strong side of the talent pool that would expect better than 25% of students being college ready, that would make it so kids didn't have to go to college because they were already prepared for a productive career in the real world.

    You have no one to blame but yourselves for your failings and you still blame us.

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    1. Ordinarily I wouldn't put this post up because it violates my comments rules here, but I think it's useful from time to time to be reminded of the very real idiot-based hatred of teachers that is out there.

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