It seems I’ve read quite a bit about teacher shortages around the country this year. There are a number of factors involved. A stronger economy means higher paying options for would-be teachers. A demographic bubble of educators is beginning to retire. In blogs and social media, I’ve seen suggestions that teacher prep programs are seeing lower enrollment in part because the national media and policy debates have demonstrated that teachers are held in low regard overall, which discourages potential teachers from joining the profession. However, shortages are not showing up across the board for all ages and subjects in school, and not in all geographic areas. Ross Brenneman gives a good sense of the complexities in this EdWeek article. If you want more examples and a healthy dose of opinion about the problems, check out Peter Greene’s compendium on this topic.
Meanwhile, yesterday was the day at my school when we go through our annual ritual of welcoming new teachers. I’m always impressed by the people we hire. A large majority of them over the years have been experienced teachers coming to us from other districts. When we hire first-time teachers, there’s a good chance they have other professional experience that enhances our staff. And when we hire first-time teachers without prior careers in other fields, that select few tends to include people with unique skills – like the time we hired a newbie English teacher who also happened to have a computer science bachelor’s degree from Stanford, along with his bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in Education.
How do we do it? Simple. We pay more than most of the districts that we’re pulling people away from. We offer better working conditions, facilities, equipment, supplies – everything teachers need to be successful. All the advantages money can buy.
That doesn’t mean everyone likes teaching in my district, or that every teacher turns out to be as great as we anticipated. And it doesn’t mean that teachers in struggling districts are ineffective or undesirable. Far from it – in my visits to schools all over California this year, I found brilliant and dedicated teachers working in all sorts of schools and districts. Teachers are called to teaching in a variety of settings. But from the hiring side, it’s nice to have enticements that give you more choices.
I write this not to boast – it’s not like I can claim any credit for my community’s resources anyway. I offer this post as an effort to agitate for change. When policy makers, educators, and reformers talk about ambitious goals for students in poverty, students at the wrong end of the so-called achievement gap, they are often ready to tell schools and teachers what to do to solve the problems, but pretty short on ideas for closing the equity and opportunity gaps that stack the odds against schools and teachers that have the hardest work to do. Fortunately, there have been some recent changes to enhance school funding for needy schools, and to close our Prop 13 loophole that for decades has shifted the state’s tax burden increasingly onto families and away from large businesses. (Read more about it here). The incremental changes here and there won’t entirely close the gap, but that’s no reason to refrain from the effort to move in the right direction.