Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Where oh where have the teachers gone?

I can predict a news article every year at this time.  School systems are scrambling to fill teacher slots.   Baltimore City notably laid off about 200 people in a surplus teacher corps about  4 months ago to balance the budget.  Now they are looking to hire about the same number, but in different disciplines from those laid off.
So what's going on?  In the old days people said it was teacher salaries.  Not so today.  The average teacher salary in Maryland is about $65,000, not bad for working 190 days a year.  Nationwide the education of teachers is down 30%.   In Michigan there is a surplus; hello Scott Walker.
If the issue is not money or working hours, what is the problem?
Supposedly the decline in the interest in teaching began in 2008, about the same time as the great recession.  Many districts stopped raising salaries and coincidentally started measuring a teacher's ability against test scores.   High test scores meant you were a good teacher.   Low scores meant you were a bad teacher.  Then there were the pacing guides.  Teachers were told where they needed to be in the curriculum each and every day.  Again it was the testing program that was driving this race.  It would not be fair to test a child on material that was not "covered".  Notice advocates for the pacing guides do not use the verb learned.  Teachers just need to make sure the material is "covered" before the testing date.  Not to worry if a child didn't get the content or had a personal life issue.  The clock is ticking, just move on.
Teaching has really never been about money.  It is a very tough job.  If you go into teaching for the material rewards, energy in will never equal financial resources out.  Good teaching is all about emotion and watching kids learn.  It is about the hugs, high fives, and the bright eyes when a kid gets it.  Teaching is about showing a child that she can learn math even though girls are not supposed to be good in math and science.  Teaching is about telling parents that their child is doing well and really catching on to the content.  Teaching is about showing a child how he can get into college and make a future different from his family.  People do not need to live great lives; we need to find greatness in the lives we are handed.  Teaching used to be a wonderful way to do just that.
When teachers unions weren't looking, politicians and supposed education advocates turned teaching into an assembly line profession.  There was a reason automakers had the strongest unions with the best benefits.   The work is hard and mind numbing.  There needed to be tradeoffs.
Teaching has always been hard work; but it has never been mind numbing.  Pacing guides, standardized testing programs, off the wall threatening parents, lack of administrative support have all joined to suck the joy out of teaching.  Great teachers have great passion for their work and for the kids.  Over and over studies have shown that increased salaries do not correspondingly increase worker satisfaction.  We are killing the teaching profession by sucking the life out of teaching and replacing those teachers with folks who are content to measure what they do by test scores.   That is not great teaching.  It is no wonder fewer and fewer people want to do it.

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