If You Want to Solve A Problem, Go To The Source!

I’m always quite baffled by the relative distance between those who provide commentary on viable solutions to the teacher shortage crisis and their proximity to the actual problem. I don’t mean that they ought to go visit a school before they share their opinion or that their opinion should be given while physically standing in a school building. It’s really simple for me. Well, the issues surrounding teacher shortages aren’t simple, but if we want to know why teachers and or principals are leaving the profession or reluctant to sign on at our most challenging schools, ASK EDUCATORS! Who better knows why teachers leave the classroom or don’t want to teach in our most challenging schools than those who are making such choices. If we want to know why students aren’t choosing to major in education, we ought to ask the students! Without ever fully investigating the reasons and rationale at the core level, we are bound to come up with pseudo assumptions and solutions. Those things that sound good and seem rational, but aren’t the actual answers to the questions we must explore before we can ever come up with solutions to solve the looming and present teacher shortage crisis. Those three questions are:
1. Why is enrollment in educator preparation programs down?
2. Why is it difficult to recruit and retain teachers at our most challenging schools?
3. Why do teachers leave the profession and are doing so at an increased rate?

You don’t have to search far and wise to find the answers on this. I mean, for example, take this article published on August 21, 2017: Schools throughout the country are grappling with a teacher shortage, data shows  Read this research brief published by Learning Forward last September: A Coming Crisis In Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the US 
Don’t have time to read the entire paper, just review this snapshot from the brief:

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 10.48.55 PM

This issue didn’t just show up and it’s not going away anytime soon. We’d prove ourselves wise to take action now, but of course, we’re still talking about what to do and how to fix this because we’ve yet to solve this problem. I could be wrong about this, but I have a theory on why we’re struggling to find solutions to this issue. Here goes nothing:

1. Are we asking the right educators?
Are we asking those who leave why the leave? Are we asking those who had a desire to teach but didn’t major in education why they did that? Are we asking those who chose not to go teach and work in our toughest schools why that is? We must make sure we are asking those who leave, not those of us who have stayed and continued along the path in spite of it all.

2. Are educators being honest? 
I tend to think HR exit interviews aren’t the exact place you share the real reasons you’re leaving the profession. I mean who hasn’t heard all the common rationales: work-life balance, family reasons, exploring other options, taking time to figure out what and where I should go with my career, etc. I am in serious doubt that people tell the truth on surveys (especially those that already have the multiple choice options for you). Some answers are too raw and too real and too traumatic to share in a formal exit interview. Sometimes teachers don’t feel safe in sharing why they are leaving as they fear retaliation. Sometimes educators fear others will judge them as not being genuine in their intention and effort all because they say they can’t feed their family.

3. How far are policymakers willing to go to change this trajectory?
I won’t deny that lots of things have been tried to address this issue, but as we know all solutions have their limits. By that I mean, depending on how far the solution goes, it can only address the issues but so much. What if policymakers were willing to make some serious changes to address this? No temporary bonus or incentives, but a real change that elevates the profession in a way that attracts the best and brightest to our field, and compensates them well to stay there. Could policymakers consider how the policies created around education have perpetuated the teacher shortage crisis? Unless you’re one who’d rather believe it all happened by chance. I think not. Compensation issues can no longer be avoided either. While our work is missionary in nature, no educator ought to have to take a vow of poverty because they choose to stay in the classroom where the real differences are made for children.

Speaking of compensation, I must share this article I read: U.S. Teacher Pipeline Has Burst: But Not in Finland or Singapore It seems national comparisons are good for evaluating teachers and their performance as well as how the U.S. fares in comparison to other countries in terms of student achievement. The one place we rarely see such a hyper-focus on how we compare nationally is in how we recruit, retain, compensate, and treat the teaching profession. If we’re going to be compared to other nations, let’s not leave the aforementioned items out of the analysis. While I haven’t verified some of the information in the article, it was a little astounding to read this statement:

“In 30 states, a teacher with a family of four, who is living on an average teaching salary, qualifies for government assistance.”

I was somewhat shocked, but I can’t say it truly surprised me.  How unfortunate is this? How does this perpetuate the growing decline of those students who choose not to enroll in educator preparation programs? Ever think about how choices we made yesterday contribute to the problems we face today?

With the continuous assault on the narrative of public education and educators over the last few years, one can’t help but think, perhaps this teacher shortage crisis is a result of such. Educators have fought some battles with NCLB, pay for performance, value-added evaluation, school choice, the resegregation of our schools, etc. We’ve won a few, but lost too many. Real solutions mean making real changes to the way our profession is respected, viewed, honored, and celebrated. As Sutcher, et al. (2016) note:

“The teacher shortage provides an opportunity for the United States to take a long-term approach to a comprehensive and systematic set of solutions to build a strong teaching profession. Although these proposals have a price tag, they could ultimately save far more than they would cost. The savings would include more than $8 billion now wasted annually on replacement costs because of high teacher turnover, plus much of the expense of grade retention, summer schools, and remedial programs required because too many children are poorly taught. In the competition for educational investment, the evidence points strongly to the importance of a strong, stable teaching force. Preventing and eliminating teacher shortages so that all children receive competent, continuous instruction in every community every year is, in a 21st-century economy, essential for the success of individuals as well as for our society as a whole.”

So if no one else will ask the right folks and beg of those who provide a response to be truly honest, I’ll do it. I believe we are either held hostage by our fear or made few by our courage. Today I choose courage. You can join me by following the #imagesofed on Twitter. Tweet me your answers to the big three or share them here on our Flipgrid page.

It’s time for educators to speak up and the time is NOW. Join me.

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!

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