Wanted: Teachers

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A question asked of all children numerous times throughout their growing up years.

Firemen, doctors, video game designers.

What kids don’t want to become is teachers.

Teaching is the one occupation that all students job shadow—13 years of it, 180 days a year.  Yet it is still not enough of an appeal to pull in quality candidates, a career choice not even on their radar.

Is it because they are simply tired of school, and the idea of continuing to go to school for the rest of their lives is unbearable?

I asked some of my students if they have ever considered becoming a teacher.  Some had, but few will.

The positive reasons they give to go into teaching include connecting with students and preparing young people for the future.  One student elaborated that a teacher “can impact, guide and inspire children especially those who may be struggling.”

I then asked what would change their minds.  Nearly every student mentioned that a higher salary would attract them.  Many also added that they would go into teaching only if they taught to disciplined, respectful kids.  “When I see all the work teachers put into just having to get students to quiet down, it seems stressful; students can be very disrespectful to teachers.”

Clearly, enough negative experience is absorbed by students that by the time high school graduation arrives, most will never return to a public K-12 school except as parents.

College freshmen majoring in education is the lowest it has been in nearly half of a century, 4.2 percent in 2016, according to the UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing reported a decrease of 55 percent of those students entering a teacher training program from 2008 to 2012; a 70 percent drop in the last decade.  In 2015, California needed 22,000 teachers, yet only 15,000 students earned teaching credentials.

Schools can’t find enough qualified candidates which means there are plenty of jobs to be had by those who are not properly trained.

In order to fill vacancies, districts hire people who are not fully prepared to enter the classroom.  These individuals bypass coursework and actual teaching practice, then are given the keys to a classroom to teach to young people.  As a parent, are you okay with that?

Would hospitals staff operating rooms with surgeons who did not finish medical school just because of a shortage of doctors?

Several steps should be taken to make teaching more attractive, which future columns will explore.

However, clearly students can see on their teachers’ faces that teaching, too often, is not fun.

This finding was confirmed in the most recent MetLife survey of teachers in 2012 which revealed that only 39% were very satisfied with their job, a 23-point drop from the satisfaction rate of 62% in 2008—troubling to imagine where that figure would be today.  And teacher shortages are on the rise across the country.

Teachers as a group have a golden opportunity to plant the seeds in their students’ minds of joining the ranks of educators.   No other profession has such an inherent advantage in showing youngsters how wonderful it is to teach.  Sitting right in front of them every day is a prospective employment pool.

But when so many obstacles are present in schools, it is challenging to overcome them and share one’s passion for learning with youngsters.

One of my few students who plans on entering the teaching field said “I hope that more individuals will enter the teaching field and raise our education system from where it is now.”

We need more than hope right now.  We need an army.

Professional Learning Community? First, supply teachers with photocopy paper.

Ring the bells, the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) no longer requires elementary school teachers to do yard duty.

It has only taken, what, 50, 70 years for this condescending practice to end.

GUSD had to stop the yard duty requirement since it does not match the latest education trend that has taken over schools these days, Professional Learning Communities or PLCs.

Having educators supervise recess is not professional, a waste of their talents and their stature.  That’s like having lawyers station the security checkpoints in courthouses.

The idea behind PLCs is for teachers to learn how to collaborate with one another since most of them work in isolation.  Of course, the $64,000 question is:  where is the time for such collaboration?   Since you can’t expect teachers to volunteer during their planning period or after work, the time needs to be imbedded in the school day, meaning, students can’t be at school so that teachers can meet.

The simplest solution is to extend the school day slightly to “bank” enough minutes for a weekly 45-minute time slot for such collaboration.   While that is a good first step, that is not sufficient time for a major overhaul that a PLC requires, for just when the conversation gets down to business, teachers have to leave, dashing to open the door for students, interrupting the intellectual stimulation of the collegial conversation, shelving it for another week.

Another option would be to have a daily period of teacher collaboration.   This would be more effective in terms of taking a pulse of students that teachers have in common.  “Did you notice Jason was lethargic yesterday?” “How can we get Erika to do homework?”  Such concerns could be shared among the students’ instructors in order to devise a “prescription” on how best to aid them.

One idea I proposed years ago in my first book, The $100,000 Teacher, was to have instructors teach four days a week, each day an hour and a half longer, and collaborate the other day.   And what would happen with the students on that fifth day?   Field trips, guest speakers, tutoring, job shadowing, art days, sports days.   This would require: 1) organization, 2) parent involvement, 3) funding.  However, change is often preceded with the adjective “difficult,” and if school districts truly wish to invest in revolutionary changes, money is going to have to play a pivotal role.

But before any discussion can begin about changing the work schedule to foster a professional learning community, teachers’ working conditions must meet a professional standard.

Recently, my school ran out of copy paper. That’s like a hospital running out of syringes.  It should never happen.

Over the three decades I have been in teaching, the number one complaint from principals about teachers is the amount of paper used.   But paper is a necessity not a luxury when working with students.

The teacher walkouts that have occurred recently in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona offer a glimpse into how powerful 3 million teachers as a workforce could become in demanding improved conditions for themselves and for their students, an equal footing in the education hierarchy. It is not something that the powers that be would want unleashed, nor could manage.

This year, GUSD mandated two days of training for all English teachers.  Not one teacher was consulted about this.  It was a completely top-down decision.  Was this a model of a Professional Learning Community?

PLC is a nicely contained idea that allows teachers just enough independence and decision-making to give them the feeling of empowerment.  But it barely moves the needle.

Show teachers they matter; saying it on a pen or keychain (Teacher Appreciation Day is May 8) doesn’t make it so.

Have teachers play a leadership role at the district level.  Has a teacher ever facilitated a principals meeting?  Teachers are not the districts’ students, being assigned pre-determined work.  They are the experts on how best to teach kids.

Not until that tectonic shift occurs can there be a professional learning community.

But first, supply the paper.