Teacher Shortage: The Glass is Empty

If you’re a pessimist, you make think the future of education in Oklahoma is grim.  The job market is changing. Many of the jobs are being outsourced or automated – making it more difficult to find a decent job with only a high school education.  Many of tomorrows jobs probably don’t even exist yet, so it is  more important than ever public education is graduating students that have the ability to learn and adapt.  So logic says if we need better students – we’ve got to make sure we are putting them in classrooms with great teachers.  However logic doesn’t seem to be present in the conversations being had by those that control educational policy. With 182 emergency certifications, it is easy to have “the glass is half-full” type of attitude when it comes to education.

If you are an optimist, well you probably haven’t spent much time in schools. 182 teachers that wasn’t able to get a job teaching through one of the nine options outlined means that at a minimum 3,640 students will be effected. That’s assuming that these are all elementary teachers with only 20 students per class (wishful thinking). If these were all secondary teachers with 120 students each (again wishful thinking) we could be talking 21,840 students in classrooms with teachers who are on emergency certifications. There isn’t really a silver lining to this teacher shortage; it needs to be priority #1 for policy makers. The cup isn’t just half-full it’s damn near empty.

There is nothing wrong with individuals seeking emergency certifications – some of them will undoubtedly turn into great teachers, and I really hope they do.  I hope they fall in love with the profession and teach with passion.  But I think in some cases, the reality is that schools are having to settle for unqualified teachers.

After spending some time in the #oklaed blogosphere reading about the teacher shortage in our state, it is tough to not simply say what has been said already, or say it as eloquently as it has been said by: This Teacher Sings, Fourth Generation TeacherOkeducationtruths, Random Teacher Thoughts, and Excellence in Mediocrity. So I want to look at the issue from a different angle.

In most of the conversations about the teacher shortage, I notice a lot of talk about recruiting new teachers, (which is important) and admonishing lawmakers (which is always fun and needs to happen) but I think we need to redouble our efforts to keep the good teachers we already have! I often hear the statistic quoted that 75% of teachers don’t make it to the 5 year mark.  I am not sure on the accuracy of that – and would love to know how that stat holds up in Oklahoma alone – but accuracy aside – we need keep good teachers in the classroom.

How can we retain great teachers?

OKEdtruth’s hit the nail on his blog titled: Why Teach here? Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.

In short, the blog discusses Daniel Pink’s video that identifies autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the key ingredients for motivation. I think this applies to retaining the great teachers we already have and when one of these ingredients goes missing.

Autonomy: Teacher’s like to feel like their input and ideas have valued; they wanted to be trusted as the professionals that hey are.

A delicate balance exists between accountability and autonomy.  When the balance is too “accountability heavy” – usually driven by high stakes testing – teachers feel they aren’t trusted and valued and begin to lose their enthusiasm for their job.

Mastery: People like to do stuff they are good at. The converse is also true – a major reason I don’t sing or dance. Sorry Mindy this teacher doesn’t sing =)

We lose a lot of teachers because they don’t feel they are being effective.  Teachers need more time to learn to be good teachers. They need longer contracts, less time in front of students, more time in effective PLC’s, more time working with instructional coaches, paid days during the summer to plan curriculum, access to rich professional libraries including time to read /reflect professional literature, time to observe effective teachers, and tuition waivers to take grad courses in their subject area.

It is difficult to improve at anything if all you do is practice the same way over and over. In order to improve. If we want to keep the teachers we have, we have to give them opportunities and the means to master their profession.

Purpose: Teachers like to feel like they are making a difference and what they do matters.

I think purpose drives most educators into the profession, but now more than ever teachers are getting burned out faster than we can replace them.  I think the key to making sure teachers don’t lose “purpose” is effective leadership. When the ultimate purpose becomes passing a “test” you lose that initial idealistic vision you once had of changing the world one student at a time, and teaching loses it’s magic.

Teacher’s need the freedom to develop relationships with students and colleagues, so they can feel they are part of something bigger than test scores, and grades, data, and evaluations.

Finally, as much as I like Daniel Pink and his three keys to motivation – I still believe one thing is lacking that may help us recruit and maintain teachers.

Money: It may sound shallow, but the fact is people go to school, get educated, and work to make money. that’s the driving force.  Many careers have pathways to advance in a career. If you are good at your job there are promotions which earn you more money and responsibility. That’s not the case with teaching. A phenomenal 20 year veteran gets paid as the teacher who has taught 20 years, but has never changed their lesson plans.  There is no way to “move-up” and remain in the classroom.    Sure you can be the department chair, or the head of the safety committee, but usually that just means doing some extra work for a stipend that doesn’t even get close to covering the time.

So what a lot great teachers do is leave the classroom and get into admin. and move up from there.  Which is great, because we need good people in those positions too. What if each school had money to put a few “lead teachers” on admin contracts. Give them more responsibility, but keep them in the classroom.  Would that convince some to stay in the classroom? Students would benefit, new teachers would benefit, admin would benefit…   We’ve got to find a way to provide incentive (by incentive I mean money and a lot of it) to keep quality teachers in the classroom, otherwise the shortage can only get worse.

So what options do great teachers have in order to advance their career AND remain in the classroom?

*cricket cricket*

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One thought on “Teacher Shortage: The Glass is Empty

  1. My daughter has moved backed to Oklahoma after teacher in Colorado for 3 years. Okla won’t give her her 3 years of experience from Colorado. Doesn’t seem like they are trying real hard to welcome teachers back home.

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