It was raining outside when I went to bed. The pitter patter on my roof lulled me into a sound sleep which led to a very strange dream. I was back at work as a Dean of Faculty somewhere. I did not recognize the school where I had seemingly landed a new job. It was the first day of classes and everything was in a state of chaos. I was attempting to calm the situation and quickly losing the battle. Most of the teachers in the place were unqualified and thoroughly confused. I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off doing my best to set things right, but somehow my efforts made little difference.
By the time I awoke from this nightmare I felt more exhausted than if I had stayed awake all night, rather than enduring the terrible images that had somehow wormed their way into my mind. I found myself wondering what might have brought on such a frightening scenario since I have been retired for quite some time now. Was it the fact that school had resumed once again or was it something I had eaten before going to bed? Then I remembered all of the commentaries about teacher shortages that I had seen during the week.
I suppose that I have never fully relaxed and turned over the task of educating our children and teens to a younger group of people. I still hold mathematics classes three mornings a week and I do a bit of tutoring in the evening. Many of my younger colleagues are continue to be dedicated to the art and science of teaching, so I hear their commentaries about the current state of schools quite often. I intimately understand all of the difficulties that have arisen during the last couple of years due to the pandemic and a political wave that is focusing on questioning school curriculum. I also know that the fear of a school shooting is real and hovers in the back of every teacher’s mind. Mostly though, the most dedicated and masterful teachers simply want to provide the best quality of instruction to their students as possible, often without a great deal of support.
I have always said that the old idea that those who can’t do anything else end up teaching is exactly wrong. In truth those who stay in the classroom for more than a few years are some of the most altruistic and talented individuals in our country. The literally view education as a vocation, something that they were destined to do. They are the rare souls so consumed with a desire to spread knowledge to the young generation that they are willing to work for less money and less respect than they might otherwise receive in a different profession. They work longer hours than anyone ever imagines and spend their own money gathering resources for their students. They provide the most important foundation of our society while often receiving little praise for their efforts.
So it should not be surprising to anyone that there is a nationwide teacher shortage. Many of our finest educators decided to retire early. Others simply gave up the good fight and found alternative jobs. The ridiculous emphasis on testing, the insinuations that teachers too woke or even grooming students became all too much to bear, even as teachers knew that such things were overblown and rarely if ever happening. Sadly many of those that did return are quietly whispering plans to find a way out in the coming future if things don’t get better.
Now we have situations where teaching jobs are being offered to veterans with only sixty hours of college credit. The idea is that such people will have an opportunity to get on the job training that will result in a degree and full certification in five years. While that sounds like a rather creative way of finding souls to fill the vacancy while also giving those who have served our country an opportunity to build a career, my instincts as a former teacher and Dean of Faculty tell me that there will be countless unintended consequences of such solutions. This will only fill the vacancies without addressing the real problems that exist in education today. In the meantime our children will suffer from the inexperience and lack of academic knowledge that such candidates will most surely exhibit. The kind of chaos of my dream will no doubt come true.
Most of my grandchildren are already in college or have earned degrees, but they saw the beginnings of the teacher shortage before graduating from high school. One grandson had taken advanced mathematics classes from the seventh grade so that he might progress to Calculus BC in his senior year. Unfortunately, the teacher who had been slated to instruct the students in this college level class had a family emergency that required him to leave the school. As a result my grandson did not get the course that would have better prepared him for the engineering courses that lay ahead for him.
This year more than half of the teachers who had been scheduled to teach another of my grandsons are no longer at his high school. Nobody knows any of the new teachers or what their qualifications or lack of them might be. Instead of continuity in the progression of education, many students are experiencing gaps produced by less qualified teachers who are filling spots rather than being chosen for their expertise in understanding the importance of the scope and sequencing of knowledge and skills.
There are many things that state governments and local school districts might do to improve our schools and none of it has anything to do with creating rules that stifle the creativity of educators. Certainly higher salaries are part of the equation but equally important is providing respect for teachers. That begins with asking them what needs to be done to elevate the public view of their profession. They are also the specialists who know the needs of their students. Lawmakers, whose only experience with schooling is once being a student, should not be in charge of deciding the fate of our schools. The experts are the people in the classroom and we are well past time in listening to and acting on what they have to say. If we are to save our schools it will not be by simply filling the gaps with unqualified people and hoping for the best. We need to quit insulting our teachers on just about every level. It’s time we ask them what is needed to repair our schools.