Focus Question 8

The current teacher shortages across the U.S. suggest that the profession of teaching has become a different and possibly less desirable profession than it was in the past.  How can we account for this phenomenon?  What are potential remedies?

Jeffrey Fleischman's picture Jeffrey Fleischman | August 15, 2017 5:01 pm MST

There is no easy answer to the question, why is there a teacher shortage and what does that shortage say about the profession.  The value of the profession can be judged by the stereotypes that exist.  Over my 20 years as a social studies teacher I have heard the following criticisms:

“Must be nice to have summers of”

“You only work half a day”

“Your job is easy because your just helping students read their textbook”

“Must be nice to have a union protected job”

“Your just an overpaid babysitter”

I think one of the reasons many don’t enter the profession is the attacks on the profession.  I think we all can answer all the above comments, but why would we want to have your professional expertise and judgement questioned at every turn.  In my community, the teacher salary is also criticized and often publicized.  Here in Connecticut, teacher are required to earn a Master’s degree, but there is always the claim by the voter (at budget time) that we make too much money.  In one district during the budget year, every teacher’s name is listed with their salary in the local newspaper; prompting comments from the community.   I am a highly educated professional, shouldn’t my salary be reflective of that?  The fact that many feel we are overpaid, demonstrates that people don’t feel like they are getting their money’s worth out of the education system.

However, everyone, even our biggest critics will have that one special teacher that had an impact on them, they will always remember that teacher.  I have been fortunate to have been told by several of my former students about the impact I have had on their life (once in a newspaper article when one of my former students was elected to the Board of Education).  It is in those moments I get my recharge to continue teaching, I often wonder about those who leave the profession if they have had one of those moments yet.  Often, they come many years later, when the student returns to thank you. 

Maybe we just need to remind all those critics about those teachers that made them who they are today. 


James Lane's picture James Lane | August 16, 2017 7:54 am MST

Well said, Jeff.  In my area north of Tampa, FL,salaries start low, around 35K, and creep upward slowly.   Teachers often work a second job.  Summers are tough, although most elect to prorate their 10-month salary across the year to soften the impact.  When I was a principal, I often saw teachers who were single mothers elect some sort of government assistance, including food stamps.  It was not uncommon for their kids to go without health insurance.  The district would cover the teachers, but not their kids, and the cost of the insurance was prohibitive.  

I think the role of teachers is more important than ever in preparing students to become active participants in a vibrant democracy. In Florida we now allegdly have a payroll system that rewards "outstanding" teachers with additional stipends. Since rewards are tied to students' performance in a draconian testing system, however, the result is to reward those who teach students from affluent backgrounds, while those schools in impverished neighborhoods are labeled as "failing," along with the teachers who choose to teach there.  I'm concerned that until we recognize teachers as top-tier professionals, we will fail to attract the best and brightest and retain those early career stars who were idealistic enough to become a teacher.

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