Ideologically speaking, centered squarely on the pupil of a grand utopian society should be the regal importance of the American school teacher. Reality however, reveals an educational system of stark ideological contradiction. Surprisingly there isn’t a significant difference in complaints from both private and public school teachers, and ‘school’ (pun intended) is still out on issues with charter schools. An anonymous source inside the Central Florida school system has claimed that ‘tenure’ is a thing of the past. Professional service contracts for teachers are now subject to yearly reviews, whereas a teacher has to renew their contract. After a teacher gets to a point where they are making too much money, they are summarily let go in favor of the fresh out of school graduate at a cheaper rate. What about the children you ask? When viewing the raising of a child from a quality time perspective, it could be successfully argued that teachers, specifically those that educate K through 12, have the potential for a greater existential impact on the development of a child than even that of their parent(s). Many of whom spend more time communicating with their co-workers over the course of a normal week, than they do communicating with their offspring. This is an unintended consequence of the confluence of working parents, children and time. In American society school teachers carry a civic burden that is often overlooked, and grossly underestimated. If it is true that ‘children are the future’ then it would stand to reason that those persons charged with their education, hold the key to the future health of our society. It is reasonable to posit that the importance of effective teachers, and their influence on our children cannot be overstated. Within that grand utopia, the teaching profession should be viewed, and admired as societal royalty. Unfortunately there is no such utopia. Unfortunately, extensive hours, below average pay, and an abject lack of institutional support, has rendered the profession radioactive to new recruits.
Statistics show that nearly 20% percent of new teachers abandon the profession within the first two years (LA Times). The flood gates seem to open wider in poorer, urban school districts where the rate of attrition is approximately 50% greater than those working in affluent school districts. New teachers are throwing their hands up in less time than it took them to achieve the education, and earn the proper certifications. An exacting motivational commitment discarded with alarming frequency. Worse still is the consequence of instability, and lack of consistency in the teaching ranks, something that is critical in the building of influential relationships with the students over time. This begs the 800 pound question, why?
The reasons are varied, numerous, and compounding with financial considerations residing in a top floor apartment. The national teacher salary average hovers around $45k per year (Payscale.com) which is at, or just below, white collar employment averages. It is very common that teachers choose to work during the summer off season in an effort to bolster their incomes. They also spend untold hours after the final bell, working. The students day off doesn’t always correlate with the teachers day off. Another profound issue is that merit based promotions are virtually non-existent, with minor raises and bonuses typically being awarded on an annual or bi-annual basis by degree of experience. Income is an issue but as a singular issue, not enough to mitigate a mass exodus. However, when compounded with additional factors, it can and has become the proverbial straw.
Classroom conditions are another issue, with significant variations throughout the U.S. in terms of class sizes. Adequate funding for educational supplies being wildly divergent between states, and the school districts within them. Another indicative problem is a teachers lack of autonomy when it comes to their lesson plans. Teachers are largely upset by their impotence with regards to addressing issues that are directly affecting their classrooms. The bureaucracy surrounding education is often too great to overcome. A 2014 study stated that teachers ranked dead last among 12 studied professional groups regarding the issue of feeling that their work really matters (Gallup). That level of discontentment is alarming.
Then there is the political witch hunt mentality within the halls of education that puts teachers under undue scrutiny. Blame for the achievement gaps of students is placed squarely on their shoulders, with little regard to other mitigating factors. This places educators in a ‘no win’ situation. They aren’t being afforded empowerment opportunities, and financial assistance from the government has strings attached. Funds often get earmarked for administration prerogatives and not necessarily towards programs that empower teachers inside the classroom. A prime example of this is the infamous ‘No Child Left Behind Act’, where the federal government earmarked the lions share of resources on systems of accountability, standardized testing, and of course teacher evaluations. Failing to properly emphasize the classroom experience itself.
The allocation of quality time to focus on actual teaching is another bag of coal under the tree. A primary reason for this is the relentless pressure on teachers to focus their time and effort on state/federal standardized testing. The recent and highly controversial ‘Common Core State Standards Initiative’ testing has increased the stakes in the already high-stakes game of curriculum testing. In addition, the movement to correlate students test results directly to teacher evaluations creates unbelievable pressure, that is arguably unnecessary. This is a game in which the useful education of the student becomes collateral, and puts teachers in an unenviable position.
What we have in 2016 is the American educational system at war with itself. The infantry soldiers of this war are the passionate educators who work tirelessly to educate, develop, and transform our children. They become teachers because of their love of learning and children. They are on the front lines and understand the transcendent importance of their achievement. The effective education of our children is the basic foundation on which our nations future is constructed. Unfortunately, it would seem that we are failing our nations teachers. At the intersection of education and politics you will find the street littered with the abandoned careers of these same bright, once passionate educators. Those who have become disillusioned with the profession and have moved on to greener pastures, leaving behind them children who need them now more than ever. The lines of bright teaching hopefuls that should be replacing them is getting progressively shorter.
As a society we need to offer more support to our educators, support not blame. When we help teachers succeed, society succeeds. We can start by rewarding good teachers with more curriculum autonomy. Smaller, more manageable class sizes. A mentoring program for teachers, by teachers. Greater institutional cooperation that focuses on the classroom experience ahead of blanket standardized testing. It is also worth mentioning that a significant improvement in teachers income scales would help in the recruitment of brighter minds that are often swayed away from education due to financial considerations. The curse of the American school teacher can be broken. With a little help from us.