Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Where have all the teachers gone?

We are burning out teachers faster than we can produce them.  We spent a big chunk of the second half of the last century getting our best and brightest to go into teaching as a career.  And we are spending the first part of this century driving those people out in droves.  First we tried to bribe them with higher salaries.   Let’s face it.   Money has never been the primary attraction for teachers.  Sure people want a decent wage with reasonable benefits, but no one ever expected to get rich teaching.

One of the differences between any profession and other work is that professionals expect some portion of control over their lives. Teachers are losing that control almost daily.

Pacing Guides are one of the primary culprits.   Pacing guides dictate to teachers where that teacher should be each day in the curriculum guide.  They are disrespectful to the good judgment of a good teacher.  Pacing guides insure that content that will be on a test has been “covered” in classroom instruction.  In essence, they are in place to cover the behind of a school system in case parents complain that their children got low scores on the school-wide testing because the information was not taught.  Pacing guides take away teacher judgment and do not insure learning.  They probably get in the way of learning since a teacher may have to move on because of the guide before the children are ready.

Unions and school administrations also conspire to reduce teacher control.  Union officials decide, with some input from the rank and file, what they will go to the mat for in the contract.  Most union officers are no longer working in the field.  The union pays their salaries.  So it stands to reason, they want to stir up enough mischief to show they have been at the table.  System administrators speak for “the taxpayers”.  They regularly forget that teachers are also taxpayers as are the families of the children schools serve.  In truth, both organizations should be concerned about what is best for the kids.  The boots on the ground belong to teachers and they have the least input into these negotiations.

Teachers need and want professional development.  It should help them do their jobs better.  What teachers do not need and want is someone else telling them what professional development they need.  Yet school administrators are regularly handing down proclamations about what teachers need to learn to do their jobs better.  It would be nice if teachers were asked and allowed to develop their own professional development.

Finally as obvious as it may seem, people become teachers because they want to teach children.  Circumstances are conspiring to take the interaction between kids and teachers away from being a human relationship to being a data driven one. Teachers love to see faces light up; they love to be the agent of change in a child’s life.  They love to give and get hugs.  Last weekend I met a young teacher from a Title I school.  It is her first year as a classroom teacher.  She told me all about her pacing guides.  She also told me that she has to tell her children they cannot touch her and she cannot touch them.  She told me how sad it makes her feel because she knows that many of her children come from homes where they get little affection and she would love to give them a hug once in a while.

But she told me.  I explained to them; I cannot touch you at all- it is against the law.  Doesn’t really take all that much research to understand why the best and the brightest aren’t staying around very long.

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