Updated: Oct 29, 2019
“Me, be a school teacher? I’d rather die first!”
Almost everyone has heard that there is a national teacher shortage in the United States. When a school has a vacancy, the number of qualified candidates is lower than anyone can recall. In fact, today a great number of new teachers (many principals estimate over half) come untrained into the teaching profession because so few college students major in education nowadays. They prepare for other careers because, let’s face it, who wants to be a school teacher these days?
School teachers know that there are few who are coming up to fill their ranks. Many of them discourage young people from following their footsteps.
We see teacher strikes on the national news because teachers all over America realize they are in a stronger position than before.
“You want to have teachers? You want to underpay us? Better think again - and pay us teachers a living salary that we can live on! Don’t like it? Then go find teachers waiting on the sidelines to take our places - lotsa luck!”
You will find this exercise interesting. Think of ten people you know. Over the next few days, ask them this: If you had the chance, at any time of your life, would you be willing to be a K-12 public school teacher? Then ask if they would be willing to be a K-12 teacher at a private or charter school. The answers would not vary much. How many will answer “maybe” or “yes”?
After you ask all ten, how many answered “maybe” or “yes”? I am guessing very few.
There are no teachers-in-waiting on the bench. The bench is empty.
Just look at the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where I spent most of my career: they started the 2018-2019 school year with almost 250 teacher vacancies. By the mid-year break in December 2018, there were still 100+ vacancies.
You might say that Palm Beach District Schools, with almost 200,000 students, is so large, they can expect large numbers of teacher vacancies. There are around 12,000 teachers in their schools. Each year, there are over 1,200 vacancies. Should we see a 10% vacancy rate each year as a problem?
That district is not unique. Running schools without teachers is happening all over the United States. And don’t think that the substitute teachers schools find to fill in for the teaching vacancies are very helpful, either. The teacher shortage crisis is so real, those who are good substitutes become teachers - leaving a lot of sub-par people stepping in as subs.
The following is true and supported by research:
50% of the teachers who begin a career in teaching leave the profession after fewer than four years of teaching.Affluent schools have greater parental support. High-poverty schools have less parental support because parents are having to work multiple jobs to survive.Almost no school district in the U.S. pays teachers more to teach at high-poverty schools than to teach at affluent schools.The poorer the school community, the more teaching vacancies exist.Schools with more teaching vacancies have a more difficult time managing student discipline.In short, there is no incentive for a teacher to teach at a high-poverty, challenging-discipline (i.e., “high needs”) school unless the teacher simply wants more challenging work for the same compensation.
Why do teachers abandon the teaching profession? Also, why don’t they enter it in the first place? While we have a crisis in a teacher shortage, there is no shortage of students. K-12 schools see this each year: as one group leaves, others are right behind to replace them. For example, when 8th graders leave middle school for high school each June, there is a fresh crop of 6th graders leaving their elementary schools coming in to replace them in August. The cycle is relentless.
Why isn’t there a steady flow of teachers, too? Research on this is clear. We already know the five main reasons that discourage teachers and create infilled teacher vacancies:
Disrespectful student behavior that goes uncorrected and unaddressed by schools while parents often make excuses for their disrespectful child. School administration that is overwhelmed and is too exhausted or unwilling to support their teachers. Low teacher salaries. Shouldn’t a 30-year old teacher make enough money to afford to live without their parents’ support? Over-focus on testing and assessment that eats up an average of 40% of the school year, shuts down school libraries, and numbs teacher and student creativity.As American families continue to disintegrate and have fewer support systems in a shrinking extended family, American schools are evolving into institutions with “wraparound” services - even though children attend a K-12 school only 10% of their lives. Schools simply cannot deliver the much-needed support to a communities in tatters.
And who wants to be in charge of a K-12 school these days? Not as many as before, and the number is dwindling each year, especially for high schools. In addition to the national teacher shortage, there is growing evidence suggesting a shortage of qualified school administrators, too.
Ask the same ten people you asked about wanting to be a teacher if they would be interested in being a school principal. 100% will respond, “No way!” I contend that virtually 100% of the American populace believe a certain lunacy is required to want to be a school principal today. Oh, they are in awe of school principals who undertake the thankless task of schooling their kids. But want to do it themselves? No way.
Why is that?
Because being the principal of a K-12 pubic school means:
No matter what anyone says, you are held totally responsible for anything that goes wrong at your school. You will only occasionally be given credit for things that go right at your school.You will often have to put their people’s children ahead of your own. You can expect to work a minimum of 10 hours per day, as well as working often on weekends.For afternoon and evening events, you will be criticized for not attending any particular event.You can expect to be blamed regularly by parents for their own poor performance in raising their children.
The list includes the same five reasons I gave you for the teacher shortage. Yes, there is a shortage of high-quality, experienced school administrators, too.
Put simply, you need teachers to get administrators. It stands to reason: fewer teachers = fewer administrators.
To compound the challenge, most of the 16,000 school districts in the U.S. spend the majority of the professional development funds to train teachers, not administrators. As a result, the teachers are better trained than the administrators who oversee and evaluate them.
A principal can hire a willing, college-educated person to be a teacher, even if they have no formal training or preparation to be a teacher. With school administration, you don’t have that option: state laws prohibit hiring of principals who do not have the formal training.
Oh, you can still find qualified people who want to be principals. But, as the unforgiving, relentless tasks that crush school administrators increase, their number is dwindling and the quality of the candidates is decreasing, too.
The situation is often exacerbated by modern superintendents who are often quick to take the side of parents who shirk their own responsibilities and blame teachers and principals. This tendency to favor “customers” over employees alienates and discourages teachers and principals even more. When was the last time you heard a superintendent tell a parent, “Ma’am, I mean no disrespect, but in this instance you are just mistaken”?
Until we address the challenge of making the K-12 teaching profession appealing enough to grow the profession, the number of people lining up to become school leaders will continue to dwindle.
Then who will be running our schools and teaching our children?
©️Copyright by David Samore. Excerpts in part or whole may not be used without the expressed permission of David Samore.