There is a teacher shortage in America and it is making a lot of us nervous. States are finally taking notice and are beginning to respond, as are local districts, and schools, but their best intentions may be missing the mark. The typical response is to offer financial incentives and hope that increasing pay by one or two thousand dollars a year will be enough to solve the issue. While a few thousand dollars would be amazing, unfortunately, this will do nothing to actually solve the problem.
You see, teachers have always been underpaid. When I became a teacher 20 years ago I knew I would not be receiving a paycheck that allowed me to live in a huge house and take summer trips to Europe. I knew the profession would cause me to sacrifice, but I also believed the sacrifice would be worth it.
Because I always speak in parables and metaphors, let me explain a little differently.
In six days I will be running in my first Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is the holy grail for runners. It is the big one. In order to run it, a participant needs to either have a qualifying time or to receive a sponsor exemption. This year the race will host more than 30,000 runners, with more than 50,000 people being turned away. The New York City Marathon, held every fall, hosts more than 50,000 runners each year.
Running a marathon is a huge commitment. I am currently running close to 50 miles a week. I had to pay almost $400 in registration costs. I had to book a hotel, will have to drive 11 hrs one way, and will be in extreme pain when I am all done, yet, despite all of this, the distance running community is growing. Just a decade ago, these same races had fields only half as large. Despite the costs, financial, physical, mental, and time, more people are signing up to participate. Why then, despite similar costs associated with teaching: financial, physical, mental, and time, are we seeing a decline in the number of quality teachers in classrooms? Well, as university officials will tell you, there actually is NOT a decline in the number of students enrolling in education courses. Undergrad teacher prep programs are actually doing really well. The issue is that once teachers enter the profession we drive them away. How? Well…I challenge you to read this article…Training baby elephants for the circus
What in the world does an article about training baby elephants for the circus have to do with teachers? Actually, the similarities are striking.
When I became a new teacher 20 years ago I made a ton of mistakes. I made mistakes every single day, yet I never feared for my job security. I knew that I could go to my principal or assistant principal and explain my missteps and they would support me, give me feedback, and help me grow. Each year I became better and soon blossomed. Today, however, things are much different. Today as teachers enter the profession they are told what to do, how to do it , and when to do it. They are bound and tied to the way things are done and are not given the freedom to understand their power and influence. Teachers are made to believe that the programs, the curriculum, the pacing, and the resources are all that matters and that teachers are commodities that can be easily replaced. I have had some principals even tell me that the only reason they hire new teachers is because they are easy to replace. New teachers feel a constant pressure. They are always looking over their shoulder for fear of judgement and evaluation. They are no longer free to admit mistakes and ask for help in fear that they will be in jeopardy of losing their jobs. They feel bound and restricted and only those willing to maintain the appearance of compliance and submission are able to continue. Teachers, who should feel strong, powerful, and majestic, are instead forced to feel inadequate, weak, and subservient.
Sure money would be nice, but if we really want to solve the teacher shortage problem, the answer is to begin to remind teachers that they matter. Teachers matter more than textbooks, more than programs, more than anything. We have to break the ropes and let the strength of our teachers be on display. Once they feel powerful again, teachers will once again rise to the challenge, celebrate their influence, and spend an entire career changing destinies.
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