If teaching is such a great gig, as some often claim it to be, why aren't more young people embracing the career?
According to a May study, “Teacher Shortages: What We Know” by the Education Commission of the United States, fewer high school graduates are interested in pursuing education majors and fewer college students are pursuing teaching careers.
Reasons for that vary. Common Core regulations. Tougher academic standards. And the fact that many kids today see only dollars when it comes to careers. And you won't find them in the classroom.
But there's more to it than that. Broadly speaking, blame a broken system. Our teachers too often today get kicked to the curb - not only by micromanaging administrators who kowtow to protective parents and school boards, but also by a pushy public that in many cases has lost respect for what once was one of the world's most noble professions.
Once thing is certain: If we don't find ways to fix it so we can attract more college-bound students to the education profession, we're going to be in a heap of trouble.
Without good teachers, our future is bleak.
The first thing to examine is whether there actually is a shortage of teachers. Several readers who commented on the O-D's Facebook page following an Aug. 28 report on the Education Commission study say they have tried for years without success to find a teaching job. So where's the shortage?
Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES Superintendent Howard Mettelman says there is definitely a shortage of teachers in specific areas, most notably the STEM areas - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other needs are in library media services, ESL (English as a Second Language) , teachers of visually impaired, speech pathologists and social workers.
Mettelman explained that other areas - elementary teachers and traditional academic areas such as English and social studies - have a good pool of candidates, making those positions quite competitive, especially when some candidates are dual certified. Budget cuts, consolidations and a freeze on Foundation Aid between 2008 and 2010 resulted in tremendous staffing cuts, he said, and many of those laid off were placed on a preferred eligibility list for rehiring. The whole scenario, Mettelman said, discouraged new college students from pursuing a teaching career. Now, as Baby Boomers retire, it's becoming difficult to fill some positions.
Job availability in certain careers tends if be cyclical, teaching included. Time was when it seemed like every other college student was majoring in education. Remember those high school Future Teachers of America groups? Many of those young people actually did pursue teaching careers. Such groups today are rare, if they exist at all. The recent Education Commission study points out that in 2010, 15 percent of high school students were interested in general teacher education majors, or 15,000 students nationwide. In 2014, that number fell to 12 percent, or about 10,000 students.
“Of those who do enter the profession, many go on to report overall job dissatisfaction, a loss of autonomy and limitations in feedback, recognition, advancement and reward,” according to the study. And after five years, 46 percent of teachers were “movers and leavers” – 29 percent of teachers moved to new schools or districts and 17 percent stopped teaching altogether.
The study findings are disturbing and might best be summed up by the idiom: We can't see the forest for the trees.
The beast here is the education system itself. It has morphed into a monster. What once was a fairly simple partnership among teacher, student and parent that worked well is now strangled by an intrusive government - federal and state - with regulations that handcuff administrators and strip away the autonomy that once allowed teachers to do what they've been trained to do - teach.
Everybody today, it seems, knows more than the teacher. And most of these wizards have never set foot inside a classroom.
This growing lack of respect for the people who cultivate our future doctors, engineers, electricians, plumbers, lawyers, journalists, CEOs, bankers, stockbrokers - you name it - sets a sour tone for anyone thinking about a teaching career. And that lack of respect is manifested by ridiculous mandates placed on educators by the regulatory overseers, many of whom have absolutely no clue what goes on inside a school every day.
Forget Common Core. This slide began long before the half-baked plan to tie standardized test scores to teacher performance. That lame idea was just another kick in a head for teachers already knocked to the ground by many other factors, not the least of which is a lack of discipline that in many cases has created a system that puts inmates in charge of the prison. Teachers who become too demonstrative - forget corporal punishment - in trying to maintain classroom order often face disciplinary action themselves, especially if pedestal parents whine to administrators about Little Johnny being mistreated. And so, the Animal Farm philosophy - "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" - becomes the new Alma mater.
Add to this the technology explosion. Is this the future? For certain. And it cannot be ignored. But when school districts are forced to cut teachers and/or programs and overcrowd classrooms in order to buy Smart Boards and other equipment, we've clearly lost our way.
The Smart Board used to be the teacher. A technological gizmo has not yet been created that can replace the face-to-face interaction between teacher and students. Informed school boards and administrators who once had sufficient teaching experience themselves - that's becoming rare - know this. But again, silly mandates, senseless regulations and other obnoxious distractions have undermined a teacher's ability to do the job.
Can we fix this? That's the challenge. Somehow the power to educate needs to be transferred back to teachers because they're the ones getting lost in the shuffle, not to mention their students. We can start by getting the bureaucrats and politicians out of a process that should be determined by people who actually know what they're talking about. Policymakers should be required to spend time in the schools and get inside the classrooms - not for just a photo opportunity, but to see for themselves the miracles teachers perform every day. Or are supposed to perform.
It can happen. But we first need to restore the value of education - and that starts at home. Where we have the right balance between home and school, teachers and their students excel. More often than not we see that with the immigrant/refugee population, who know that the key to their future in America is a sound education. And yes, the reality is that hard as we wish, that home element is going to be missing in some cases. That's when teachers need even more support.
Most of all, if we expect to attract young people to this profession, we must rebuild the respect for teachers that has been allowed to disintegrate in the wake of the many controversies that have hijacked the educational system. There's not anyone reading this who cannot remember a teacher who has made a difference in their lives.
In fact, if you've read this far, you might thank a few of them for that.