Once a highly coveted position and lifetime career opportunity, for the current crop of new graduates and those with even a little experience, teaching is much less attractive than in years past. Around the country, states, from Indiana to Oklahoma, Hawaii and Arizona, have a high rate of teaching vacancies: more than a 1,000 for multiple states. Subsequently, some experts have deemed the shortage a crisis-level situation.
In response, many states have kicked recruiting efforts into high gear. Some are using tax breaks, loan forgiveness and sign on bonuses to draw more would-be educators into the field. Some of it has been effective but the problem remains, and to fully understand the lack of interest one must consider the reasons behind the “crisis.”
- Standardized Testing Standards
A decline in proficiency in basic subjects like reading and math has led to major reform in various districts and states and, infamously, the federal government. The now heavily criticized No Child Left Behind act increased the role of standardized testing in schools and changed the culture of school as well. Many teachers, instead of being afforded the creative freedom to develop personal curriculums and lesson plans, were expected to adhere to lessons related only to testing. Worse, many teachers were and are graded according to the performance of students on such tests.This highly problematic comparison has undoubtedly played a role in the disinterest of existing teachers, and has likely prevented prospective teachers from pursuing the career.
- Reduced Union Rights
With such changes, bargaining rights have also been jeopardized. Teachers’ unions typically negotiate on behalf of teachers for fair evaluation practices, in class responsibilities and academic freedom. Yet with such strict mandates, it has become more difficult for unions to leverage the interest of those represented. Indeed there are entire campaigns launched against teachers’ unions and more than a few instances of denunciation in the press. Weaker unions hurt teachers.
- Meager Salaries
The national average for teachers’ salaries is just $36,141, which is quite low in comparison to the nature of the job, its importance to society and the often grueling hours. Yet in Arizona, where the number of teachers has consistently dwindled over the last five years, that number is even lower at just $31,874. Teachers with experience and the means to do so have left the state entirely, taking jobs in nearby places like Texas and California, where pay is better but still paltry. Still, for departments hoping to attract a new crop of educators with such salaries, doing so is understandably difficult.
- Inadequate Budgets
Additionally, multiple districts lack the budgets necessary to create quality work environments for teachers, let alone great learning environments for students. One of the most damning examples of this problem played out on Twitter earlier this year, with educators from Detroit Public Schools revealing on the social media platform the appalling conditions of their classrooms and work areas. A more widespread issue is the reality of teachers who purchase their own school supplies, since those needed are not provided by the schools themselves. Such a struggle is discouraging, even for those who love what they do and are passionate about teaching.
Calling this problem a crisis is not hyperbole, rather it is real life and the foresight of administrators, parents and government leaders, who realize that without teachers, the future of our country is in danger. Poor education leads to an unprepared and unskilled population, which is not good for society nor our economy. Fixing these issues, listening to complaints and taking teachers’ feedback seriously must be the top priority for those responsible for their recruiting and retention. Otherwise nothing will change.