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.