Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Teacher Shortages: Things Are Bad All Over

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2015 at 10:26 AM

Tim Steller wrote a good column Saturday, Underpaid and disrespected, Arizona's teachers flee. Arizona teachers are leaving the profession altogether, he wrote, or leaving the state for greener—as in higher-salaried—states. It's worth a read, in part because of Steller's support for Ed Supe Diane Douglas' education funding proposal which is the only one among those currently being floated that targets the teacher shortage directly, to the tune of $400 million.

But the story doesn't end with Arizona. Things are tough all over, not only in the current shortage of teachers in the classroom but also in the waning number of prospective teachers in the national pipeline. According to a piece in Politico's Morning Education email briefing:
Many states are struggling with teacher shortages. Teacher pay is dismal. Fewer students are enrolling in teacher preparation programs, drawn to better-paying jobs as the U.S. continues to climb out of the recession. During the 2008-09 school year, more than 719,000 students nationwide were enrolled in teacher prep programs. By 2012-13, that number fell to about 500,000.
A recent Daily Star article said the enrollment in the UA College of Education follows the trend, with an enrollment drop from 1,135 in 2009 to 900 in 2013.

I'm sure Politico is right to say that the improving economy is part of the reason people are choosing other professions over teaching, but that's far from the whole story. The savaging of teachers, which has been promoted by conservatives since the Reagan years and has become a regular drumbeat in the media, is driving people out of the profession. Teachers are thinking, "I work my ass off to educate your children while being paid a ridiculously low salary and having to cope with too many students and too few books and supplies, and all I hear is what a lousy job I'm doing." The disrespect is literally adding insult to injury. And then there's the increased pressure to teach to the test rather than to the whole child.

Would I go into teaching if I were a college student today, or would I stay there after my first few years in the classroom? The profession would certainly be less appealing to me than when I began in 1969 — with a $7,200 yearly salary, by the way, so I certainly wasn't in it for the money.

Case in point. You know those idealistic young people who join Teach for America, generally from the top ranks of college graduates, to spend a few years in classrooms, often in low income areas? Their numbers are down by nearly 25% from two years ago. One reason may be that graduates are having an easier time finding jobs because of the economic rebound, but I doubt that tops the list. TfA numbers were high when the economy was booming. I'm guessing two other factors are deterring top graduates from spending a few years in the classroom before they join their chosen professions. First, who would want to go into that "lousy profession" and work in "failing schools" where they'll get nothing but grief for their efforts? That would put a serious crimp in those feelings of altruism that might have drawn young people to the program. Second, lots of people go into TfA at least in part to burnish their resumes. A few years in the program used to give them a leg up over other applicants for high paying jobs. These days, I'm guessing when you tell a job interviewer that you spent a few years as a teacher, it has less cachet than it did back in the a-little-better old days when teaching was still considered a somewhat noble profession. 

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