AMERICA’S REAL CRISIS: A SHORTAGE OF TEACHERS
I will always be a teacher.
Flashback to the spring of 2010: I had mixed feelings about retiring. I enjoyed the work I did…helping young students who had trouble learning like I did when I was their age. I liked reading to and with students. I liked analyzing student difficulties and trying to come up with “work-arounds” or actual solutions.
But the focus of my work had turned more and more towards preparing students to pass a test. The school would be graded on its ISTEP scores, and third graders would repeat third grade until they could pass IREAD-3. Real learning had to take a back seat to test prep. The rationale was that the test accurately measured student learning, so teaching to the test was appropriate.
That rationale was wrong. I didn’t like all the extra time that I had to spend on testing. I didn’t like worrying about student test scores instead of what the students actually needed to improve their learning. I didn’t like all the paperwork needed for “accountability” which was based only on test scores.
I had taught long enough. So I retired.
I retired because of personal reasons as well…I missed a month of school with a broken heel/ankle, and the school system offered a bonus for older teachers who were ready to retire. So I retired.
…and the very next year I was back in school volunteering and doing the parts of teaching that I liked — helping struggling students and reading aloud to classes of second and third graders. I will always be a teacher…even when the time comes when I can’t volunteer any more.
But not everyone has the luxury of doing what I did. Teachers who are well into their career but not old enough to retire have to choose whether to stay and fight the trends of so-called “reform” or to quit and try to find other work. High school and college students who are looking for career options can and are choosing to direct their lives away from public education. In state after state, around the nation, fewer and fewer students are looking at teaching as a career choice resulting in a nation-wide teaching shortage which, if things don’t change, will get worse before it gets better.
Why is it that teachers are bearing the brunt of public school scapegoating? Retired teacher Frank Breslin gives us a five part look at what makes teachers such an easy target.
Does divide and conquer account for the fact that so many people hate teachers because we’re “overpaid” and, according to Chris Christie, “get 4 months off a year.” Did we bring it on ourselves by not dealing with the myths about teaching earlier? Is it because teaching is still a female-dominated career choice and our male-dominated society places a lower value on it? Did so many people hate school that the pent up anger against teachers exploded in a national attack against us? Is it just the normal reaction to an authority figure?
Do people who hate public schools and public school teachers understand that the memories of their own school days are the immature memories of a child?
Why is it that so-called “reformers” have, on the whole, never taught in a public school? Why is it that so many so-called “reformers” send their children to private schools where “test-and-punish” education doesn’t exist?
It’s well worth the effort to read this series of informative and insightful pieces.
The issue of teacher responsibility for student performance must be placed within this broader social context of what has been happening outside the American classroom for the last 30 years. Only in this way will the discussion about student learning become more realistic, and honest, and why singling out teachers alone distorts the true nature of both the problem and its solution.
When there are too few teachers in a school, and those few are overwhelmed by large classes and have no time to provide individualized attention for students — many of whom come to school deeply troubled and alienated with all sorts of problems having nothing to do with the school — is it any wonder that students find it hard to focus and learn?
The emotional, familial, and social problems of many inner-city students are often so deeply embedded and, in many cases, treatable only by professional help that the paltry resources of the school cannot begin to address them. These underfunded schools often lack even the essential services of counselors, social workers, and nurses because of draconian budget cuts.
What makes matters still worse is that these same schools are now set up for additional failure by being annually denied billions in vitally needed tax revenues diverted to charter schools, with no accountability, as part of a right-wing political agenda.
This is nothing less than the nationwide destruction of public schools by privatizing them for personal gain and rewarding charter-friendly legislators and governors with campaign contributions taken from that same taxpayer funding that should be going to support public schools.
Are parents formally evaluated on the behavior of their children? Are doctors evaluated on the health of their patients? Are clergy evaluated on the moral behavior of their parishioners? Are such ratings publicized in the newspaper for all to see? Are politicians evaluated by their promises, the economic condition of their constituency, the safety of their district…
Second, I propose that doctors be evaluated on the health of their patients. It wouldn’t matter that there was no known cure for a particular ailment, or that the problem stemmed from heredity, poverty, or childhood neglect…
Is America so desperate for scapegoats that it willfully ignores the nature of children and the many outside influences upon children’s learning and behavior beyond teachers’ control?
Ostensibly, the policy of evaluating teachers on their students’ performance is designed to improve public schools by holding teachers accountable. However, by refusing to take into account several factors which impede student learning and over which teachers have no control, this policy is, in essence, a punitive measure, a political weapon, a pre-emptive strike against teachers, intended to demoralize and drive them out of the teaching profession.
There are so many lost children in our schools today that one wonders whether they are the canaries in the mine shaft of American culture, signaling that there is something terribly wrong in our country. Many of the problems that afflict inner-city children discussed in Part 1 of this series affect many children at all levels of our society no matter where they may live.
Children come to school hungry, malnourished, unhealthy, troubled, and, in some cases, so irredeemably scarred by hopeless home situations that massive interventions are needed.
Many schools, however, cannot provide them due to the loss of school nurses, psychologists, and social workers, increasingly disappearing from public schools because of budget cuts and funding diverted to charters.
America has the highest rate of children living in poverty of any advanced nation in the world — nearly 25%. This is the reason why our national average of test scores is low: “family poverty, the most reliable predictor of low test scores.” Poverty, not teachers, drags down test scores.
Scores will be high for students with educated parents, and low for students from backgrounds of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, poor nutrition, absent parents or little parental support, as well as for English-language learners and students with disabilities.
Education “reformers” have it all wrong…
Students and teachers are being subjected to increasingly punitive extrinsic structures: Scores, grades, evaluations, assessments, punishments, discipline, rigidity, standardization, absence of context, divorced from individual experience.
All the factors that stimulate and perpetuate intrinsic motivation are disappearing.
To say education reform has it wrong is a monumental understatement. Policy makers and educational reformers seem hell bent on beating students and their teachers until their morale improves.
That’s just stupid.
Indiana has gorged itself on the fat of “school reform.” Schools are underfunded (last legislative session funded more school money for wealthy areas, and less for poor areas), collective bargaining rights for teachers have been reduced, tenure is no more, the law requires VAM based evaluations, there is extra money for charters, vouchers are ubiquitous, and more and more students who live in poverty (now more than 50% of America’s public school students) are being taught by untrained or inadequately trained teachers. This all leads to fewer and fewer college students choosing an education career. The self-fulfilling prophecy of public school failure is being orchestrated by millionaires and billionaires who send their children to private schools…where the test-and-punish brand of education doesn’t exist.
Remember this when it comes time to vote…
Indiana is wracked with concern over an oncoming teacher shortage. The state has been a reformster playground, rolling back teacher support and attacking teacher pensions, so some sources are reporting a jump in teacher retirement. But the supply end of the pipeline is even more damaged– the state Department of Education reports a drop in issued teacher licenses from 7,500 in 2007-08 down to 934 in 2013-14. While trouble filling openings is still spotty, the future does not look good.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.