As the teacher shortage gets worse across Kansas and nationwide, the Kansas Department of Education has launched a marketing effort to recruit young students into the profession. They believe that there simply is lack of understanding about how to become a teacher. But high schools and universities supply an abundance of information for any student with a desire to become a teacher.
Most vocations are invisible to a student growing up; but students have observed the job of a teacher right in front of them for 12 years. And that is precisely the problem: students know the real teaching situation because they have seen firsthand the disaster of No Child Left Behind teach-to-the-test dictates that stripped professionalism from their teachers.
For nearly two decades, we have forfeited the professional decision-making of teachers for standardized one-size-fits-all testing. And the recent name change of NCLB to ESSA and partial reduction in testing has done little to restore teacher professionalism.
When teachers’ professional responsibilities have been undermined, when they are blamed for schoolchildren’s failures, and when they receive no respect from the political bodies or the public at large, video pep sessions are not going to overcome those realities. While a few affluent communities hire away the best teachers to teach the best students, this state of affairs holds true for the majority of schools nationwide. So what can we do to restore professionalism, to make teaching a profession of respect that can recruit the best of the next generation?
- Restore tenure (also called “due process”). Beginning teachers lack any job protection in their first 3 years of teaching—an adequate period to determine if they have the skills to teach. Once “tenured,” it only takes a competent administrator to fire an incompetent teacher. But this accomplishes nothing if there is no surplus of good teachers to fill that vacancy. A competent teacher should not have to fear losing his/her job each year and forever have to rent. While NCLB caused a long decline in teachers, loss of tenure caused a major exodus. Until due process is restored, no other actions will bring back substantial students into teaching.
- Return all curricular design and subject testing to the teachers’ hands…period! Sure, go ahead and use the ACT for college placement. But rural and urban students are different, and teachers must be the sole agents responsible for developing unique teaching for their unique students.
- Stop treating administrators as “instructional leaders.” Administration is there to support the teachers and nothing more. If you do not have good teachers, no administrator can cure the problem.
- Move all secondary teacher training to the university content departments. U.S. secondary teachers are undertrained compared to other developed countries. Ed School fads change every 2–3 years; their methods curricula are generalized and lack lasting value.
- Use only the teaching technology that teachers’ request. A huge amount of money is going down the ed-tech rat hole while student performance is dropping. Gaming is not learning. And walking around a classroom as students individually play on “personalized” programs is not teaching.
- Pay teachers a professional living wage. U.S. teachers made more in purchasing power in 1971 than any year since. Teachers do not enter teaching for the money, but some leave because they cannot support their family.
- Stop lowering the bar for teachers. Most alternative route teachers perform poorly in the classroom. You wouldn’t want nurses practicing medicine or doctors trained in nighttime online courses. When we must fill positions with unqualified persons, call them permit or emergency teachers, but do not give them fake credentials.
- And revive respect for teachers. Teaching has become the target of blame for all of our social ills—the Rodney Dangerfield of professions. Asians and Europeans respect teachers. The child who gets in trouble at school should also be in trouble when they get home. Good teachers who lack parental and administrative support will leave the profession. Many have.
Teaching is the greatest of all professional fields. Unlike a medical doctor, who cures a patient to send him or her back to their prior life, good teachers help their students build a better life forever.