Note: This is not the most eloquent piece of writing that I’ve shared on this blog. It deals, however, with an issue far more important than my eloquence as a writer. It deals with the consequences replacing deep analysis of serious problems with the superficial… the superficial look at serious problems and the rush to gather “points” for pandering to various belief systems in the quest for continued political power.. The cost of this folly is the continued erosion of the education of our children in a functioning system of public education.
Earlier today I read a piece dealing with guess what?… the teacher shortage. Surprise! Surprise! I don’t know about you but I’ve about had it with the latest media “click bait”. After pretty much exhausting our willingness to read more articles and opinions about COVID caused “learning loss”, the tentacles of COVID have once again claimed front page status.
Recently, the editorial board of NJ.Com, arguably the state’s largest source for news, offered yet another teacher shortage editorial entitled “N.J. Schools are scrambling to recruit teachers. Why is it so hard? /Q&A”
The piece begins with the assertion that some schools say they are “facing a daunting teacher shortage”, most notably in subjects like math, science and special education. NOTE: To be fair, there is also much being written about the shortage of, and need for, mental health professionals. The piece was written and published by the paper’s editorial board and provided insights offered by Christopher Morphew, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Education. My own conversations with former colleagues not yet enjoying the luxury of retirement have verified these concerns. My purpose in sharing thoughts here is not to dispute the reality of teacher shortages. What captured my attention was a response provided by Morphew to the question: “What is the cause of this problem? Why aren’t there enough teachers?”
Morphew: The biggest, most obvious one is that for the last ten or so years, or even longer, there have been a shrinking number of teacher candidates, and students interested in going into education as a field. That’s down 30, 35 [SIC] percent nationally, and in some states as much as 70 and 80 percent.
It’s a less desirable field relative to other professional fields that have seen growth. And education is becoming highly politicized, to the point where choosing to enter this profession is choosing to enter a battleground, if you will. You are denigrated, your ethics are questioned, your skills are questioned, and you’re increasingly expected to take on the role of nurse, and psychologist and therapist. In many situations you’e not trained for that.
So the working conditions are challenging, the politics are challenging, there are other more desirable fields to enter into, and when you have all that besides a pandemic, that’s a pretty volatile mix for attrition rates.
This was an excellent analysis of the issues relating to concerns about teacher shortages and quality. It also added a topic that has been omitted in most analyses… the reality that this decline in teachers has been in process for some time now and, while exacerbated by the pandemic and its ramifications, it is not exclusively a COVID related issue. In this piece I will offer an additional area for consideration while, in as gentle a way as possible, I’ll question the wisdom and qualifications of those currently offering what can only laughably be termed “solutions”.
I’ll begin with what, to some, may seem a challenging assertion.
It begins with the recognition of what continues to be a national (if not international) issue…our penchant for valuing quick analyses and solutions/proposals rather the commitment of time and thoroughness required for an investment in/commitment to longer term problem analysis and solution development. The majority (if not all) of the writings about the problem of teacher shortage focus on decisions being made by adults about their choice to enter, not to enter, or to leave the job market via early retirement or career change. There is general agreement that the shortage issue is related to one of two issues: the number of teachers leaving the profession or the number applicants for teacher preparation programs. My intent here is to focus on the drop in applicants pursuing teacher preparation.
This focus led me to what seemed an obvious question. Who has been left out of the analysis and discussions? As has become our practice, we tend to exclude from conversations regarding solutions the very people most involved in and affected by the decision. Historically, a very large number of students who have traditionally made the decision to pursue a career teaching have done so before entering teacher preparation programs – i.e., They most frequently make these decisions during the school years and do so closely related to their own experience with teachers. What if we explored this? What would happen if this were of sufficient importance to have the voices of our students heard as they share about their decision making process to and allow this to be a critical part of the problem analysis?
What if we discovered (and I believe we will) that far fewer students, while still in high school, are deciding to become teachers? What if we discovered that experiencing 30+ years of “school reform” has taught students that they want no part of seemingly endless days and hours of test prep and assessment taking, no part of the stress they see daily in the adults around them, no part of the loss co- and extra-curricular programing (the things they liked most about the school experiences)? What if we examined the precipitous drop in enrollment in teacher education programs over this 30 year period by actually speaking with those who turned away from choosing teaching as a career? What would the voices of those who actually experienced the past decades of “education reform” tell us? Would such an approach not add significantly to the discussion about possible responses to our current needs?
What if we spent less time arguing whether or not people in the military, folks with EMT certification, folks without teaching preparation training, etc. should be allowed to “teach”?
What if we devoted time to interviewing and listening to students who actually make decisions about their future? Couldn’t we/Shouldn’t we at least try?