Where have all the teachers gone?by Marc Severson on Apr. 29, 2012, under Education
Another Monday, lunchtime, and as we sat, slumped about what is euphemistically called ‘the lounge’; attempting to recapture some semblance of life, the conversation turned to yet another promising young teacher who was leaving the field of education. “Six years and he feels he’s gotten nowhere, he’s entering medical school.” was the report.
I’ve heard it before. Some years ago I stood out on the school playground during my charges’ 15 minutes of totally unsupervised PE and took a call from my daughter in Florida. “Dad,” she began, haltingly, “would you be mad at me if I switched my major from education to nursing?”
Colleagues say that children, hundreds of yards from where I was standing, jumped, startled, at my scream of unmitigated joy.
And yet I was also disappointed. Not in my daughter — she had made the right choice. I was disappointed that after so many years, my chosen field was so obviously unattractive to young college students.
There are not many new teachers out there. I hope my colleagues will forgive me an obvious observation but we are old. So many teachers are preparing not for another school year but to retire, after decades in the educational trenches, I worry; where will the next generation of dedicated instructors come from?
The 28th annual MetLife Teacher Job Survey, released in March found that teacher job satisfaction was at an all-time low:
Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, the last time the MetLife survey queried teachers on this topic, from 59 percent to 44 percent responding they are very satisfied. This rapid decline in job satisfaction is coupled with a large increase in the number of teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today). Teachers are also more than four times as likely now than they were five years ago to say that they do not feel their job is secure (34 percent today vs. 8 percent in 2006, the last time this question was asked). In addition, 53 percent of parents and 65 percent of teachers today say that teachers’ salaries are not fair for the work they do. (1)
It is not all dire and dreary, there is some good news in the survey. Teachers report that they feel more supported by their communities than they have in the past; a phenomenon I discussed in an earlier post when I pointed out that most parents thought their school was a good one — it was other schools that needed shoring up (http://tucsoncitizen.com/tired-tucson-teacher/2011/10/21/on-equity-and-assessment-in-education/).
What’s more, the MetLife survey reports that parent involvement is up. This is big! If there has been one complaint that I have heard voiced over and over by teachers it is that they just don’t get enough involvement from parents.
Teachers have not given up but they are still under fire, hopelessly underfunded and definitely under-appreciated. The newest “Teacher of the Year”, Rebecca Mieliwocki, says she wants to help “restore dignity to the teaching profession.”(2)
It will take more than that. In addition to restoring dignity we must restore funding and begin listening to teachers and other educators who are the ones struggling to keep American public education alive. And that includes listening to the many educators who have signed on to end this morbid fascination with high stakes testing. A national resolution has been started (3) that seeks to find more equitable and less harmful measures of student achievement.
One area that shows much promise and is getting a lot of attention from educational professionals is the concept of project based learning. In Tucson we have seen the success of such programs as the JTED program which as well as being aligned with school objectives, concurrently focuses students attention on practical craft and employment opportunities so that they emerge from high school ready to begin to contribute to the economy and society.
A program in Oregon has also shown considerable success in the project based model while operating as an alternative high school. (4) A similar model would be easy to implement in public schools given our new found fascination with the Internet and social media. Used properly, doors can quickly be opened encouraging students imagination and natural desire to learn. The key is tailoring the curriculum to each student by assisting them in pursuing all the necessary disciplines of math, science, social studies, the arts and language arts needed to express the findings of their chosen project. Implementation of such radical learning styles could suddenly make students engaged and interested instead of sullen and angry. And concomitantly a similar result might be seen in our current instructors tired eyes and more importantly our profession could begin to increase its attractiveness to the young college students, who while certainly concerned with maximizing their earning power also would want to be able to report job satisfaction as strong in their chosen career.