Something to think about...by Superintendent Westerberg
In the last issue, I wrote about the shortage of teacher candidates which plagues much of the country and how this creates a significant challenge for administrators to find a quality teacher in every classroom. In fact, a recent survey by Gallup showed more than 60 percent of superintendents across the nation strongly agree that finding and keeping talented teachers is the highest-priority issue for superintendents.
There are numerous reasons for this trend, but I will highlight just a few. The negative public perception of K-12 education, which has escalated after “A Nation at Risk” was published in 1983. This report used test scores and international comparisons to put K-12 education in a negative light. The constant drum beat of negativity towards public education has drowned out the significant gains achieved during an era of increased child poverty and changes in family structures. Few know graduation rates are the highest in the history of public education and 70% of high school graduates attend post-secondary training, another all-time high for our country. There is much more improvement needed, but bad press travels faster than good.
This cloud of negativity has influenced the future plans of many students. Over the last four decades I’ve routinely asked high school seniors about their career plans. Fewer and fewer say they plan to be teachers, and most who do, say elementary education. My standard follow-up question is: Why not teaching? Not wanting to deal with unruly students, being discouraged by family/friends, and low pay are the most common responses. Unfortunately, I rarely hear their hopes and dreams are the desire to help shape future generations and wanting to have a meaningful impact on the lives of others.
There have always been a few unruly students and this won’t change anytime soon. OveralI, I believe young people have done very well adjusting to the many societal challenges that didn’t exist in my youth. Again, people tend to forget the good news and fixate on the bad. This is especially true in the 24-hour media environment we live in today.
For the first time in the 50 year history of the PDK Poll on the public’s attitude towards the public schools, a majority say they don’t want their own children to become teachers, most often citing poor pay and benefits as the primary reason for their reluctance. The prestige of the K-12 teaching profession has also changed significantly. Teaching was once viewed as an occupation of choice and on par, status-wise, with professions like medicine or law. Too often bright young people are being told they can do better when announcing they want to become a teacher. The understanding that teachers are the vehicle in which all professions are achieved seems to be overlooked.
Being a good teacher is very hard. Those with close friends or loved ones in the profession see the hours spent in preparation and the emotional challenges take a toll. Technology changes, curriculum updates, state and federal mandates, pressures of test results, changing parental expectation, social media, escalation of students with special needs, growing mental health issues, etc. are just a few of the challenges teachers face.
Next month’s article on this topic will look at possible ways to address the growing teacher shortage in America.