Let’s begin at the beginning

Let’s begin with the premise that teaching is hard work, and that good teaching is even harder.  Bad teachers work hard, but fail through a deadly combination of inexperience, poor planning, poor preparation, ineffective staff development programs, the lack of a good mentoring program or all of the above, to direct their efforts toward positive results for students. If you really need proof that teaching is hard, simply ask any parent at the end of an extended school vacation if they are ready for school to resume. Parental valuation of the work teachers do rises exponentially as holidays progress.

I believe that the vast majority of teachers love teaching. Just what is it teachers do, you might ask? Here is a partial list of teacher responsibilities that aren’t listed in any contract:

I think you get the point. We have loaded on to every teachers’ plate jobs that used to be called “parenting.” Somewhere along the way we forgot that relationships and personalized learning are the foundation of an effective education for every child.

I believe most teachers deal with these issues as part of the job, and find ways to fit all these things and more into their teaching schedule. In an unscientific survey I asked a group what they thought were the issues that made teaching unenjoyable. These are the “joy killers” they named.

These are the roots of resentment that over successive years cause many of them to throw up their hands and shout “I give up.” Their replacements, by the way, are not breaking down the doors of preparatory classes to sign up for the job.

So what can you do to help staunch the rapid flow of teachers out of the profession AND encourage students to enter what was once a respected vocation? Here are their suggestions:

  1. Believe in and support teachers. Poverty is the culprit behind achievement gaps. Period. Teachers don’t cause poverty.
  2. Develop professional learning and development that includes experienced teachers working with new teachers. Pay good teachers to share their knowledge, experience and ideas in ways that allow them to stay in the classroom. One good teacher working with 3 or 4 novice teachers is a powerful tool. Large groups listening to an “expert” they don’t know is not.
  3. Pay good teachers more to work in rural and/or high poverty schools. These schools are easy to find…look at the standardized test scores.
  4. Eliminate standardized testing for anything other than diagnostic purposes.
  5. Know that magic bullets don’t work. The answer to improving education is found in the power of teachers to reach students on a personal level. Invest in people and not in programs.
  6. Recognizing that technology is a tool for teachers and not an educational answer unto itself.
  7. Modernize the school calendar. Six hours of instruction over 240 days makes more sense from an educational standpoint that the current calendar held over from an agrarian society that no longer exists.
  8. Help prevent legislative meddling in teaching and learning. Politicians with unfunded mandates and legislative attempts to provide standardized solutions have done more to hurt education than to help. Expecting every child to succeed at the same level to the same degree at the same time displays enormous ignorance of fundamental differences in humans and the human condition.  

Common sense tells us that unless we find ways to make teaching more attractive to those both those in the profession and those who might be considering it, retirement numbers will continue to grow and their replacements will not answer the call. That also means that school systems, especially those in rural areas, will experience even greater teachers shortages than they see now, and far too often the answer is not found in making teaching more attractive but in lowering standards for entry. That’s not a solution, it’s submission.

Jim’s post is part of a roundtable blogging discussion sharing educators’ stories on our nation’s teacher shortage. We want to hear your thoughts! Join the conversation by commenting on and sharing this blog and by reading the other blogs in this series. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to join the discussion on social media.

  • Fred Maynard

    One of the joy-killers that isn’t discussed as much directly but falls under the additional paperwork is lesson planning. I am a witness to the ridiculous nature that many administrators are pushing down for lesson plans. It is sad when a teacher will spend 6 hours on a Saturday to plan for a week of classes. And that’s just one subject. We are asking teachers to differentiate just about everything, align everything, script every minute of their class, submit these plans for weekly critiquing. Talk about the lack of professionalism. This embodies it completely.

    • Jim Arnold

      Everything can be carried to an extreme. My lesson plans were detailed but allowed for diversions into areas I might not have predicted. They often failed to reflect what actually happened in class, and I think those forays into the unknown were part of what made teaching so much fun for me and for my students. I did try to apply the old saying from the Mississippi politician about money -“More money won’t solve the problem, but the absence of it is guaranteed to make it worse.” That sums up how I felt about lesson plans.

  • curiousidle

    Not with you on mandating a longer school year for all students. While it is true that we are no longer an agrarian society, it is also true that a demanding school experience that takes the lion share of your waking hours and your year feeds a culture of workforce preparation in which the largest share of your life and your labor belong to your employer… forcing your family, your interests, your health and your self discovery into the remains of the day and the remains of the year. Students who have access to informal learning opportunities: travel, family time, nature, exploring their own interests, etc should not be hampered in these pursuits because some students do not have those opportunities. Access to summer school and low cost or free enrichment for students who do not have access to the above is meaningful while not reducing childhood to a preparatory for lifelong exploitation.

    • Jim Arnold

      Excellent point about making school job prep…that’s why my suggestion was to limit the school day to 6 hours and not the current 8. The other objection I have heard is that it would be inconvenient for parents because it doesn’t match their working hours. I’m not convinced having students sit through 7 hours of classes per day (excluding lunch and class changes) is beneficial, especially for elementary and middle school kids.

  • Patricia Johnson

    I agree with you on several of these issues. Teachers wear so many hats that people(parents especially) never consider. When I was a child every friend I had wanted to be a teacher. We all thought it was a great thing to be when we grew up. I don’t see that anymore. I have a teenage daughter and I do not hear any of her friends say that’s what they want to be. They have come to realize the pay is not great and the responsibilities that come with the job. Teachers are extremely overworked and undervalued and their day does not end when the children are dismissed.

  • Jose Vilson

    After this past Valentine’s Day, it’s imperative we add “first responder” to that otherwise strong list. Thank you!

  • Zaigham Khan

    I believe most lecturers cope with these problems as a part of the work, and realize ways that to suit of these things and additional into their teaching schedule. In associate unscientific survey I asked a gaggle what they thought were the problems that created teaching un enjoyable Payroll management software .