Sometimes we look at numbers and ignore them for two reasons:
- We don’t see individual lives represented by the numbers.
- The numbers represent someone else’s problems.
Some people look at the numbers and argue that teacher shortages are just a regional issue or only related to particular subject areas (e.g., see chart below, and here, here, and here). They argue that we do not need to be concerned about this as a nation.
They are wrong. The fact that teacher shortages do not impact everyone equally means that they disproportionately impact some. Teacher shortages are indicative of major fault lines in our country – fault lines that typically run along lines of inequity and problematic perceptions of the teaching profession. As Justin Minkel writes, “There is a shortage of skilled, experienced teachers. That shortage hits communities of color and children of poverty hardest.”
Some of us need data. Others of us are moved by stories. What is most powerful? Data with stories.
Teacher turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools.
Those teaching schools with 25% or more students of color are more likely to move or leave teaching that teachers in schools with fewer students of color.
Turnover rates are 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of concentrations of students of color.
Controlling for other factors, teachers in districts with a maximum teacher salary greater than $72,000 are 20% to 31% less likely to leave their schools than those in districts with maximum salaries under $60,000.
This is not just a challenge for urban education. We know rural districts struggle to recruit and retain teachers.
Sometimes teachers are the ones who cannot afford housing in more affluent areas where teacher salaries do not keep up. Maybe teachers should just live in tiny houses. That will certainly help people view teaching as a desirable profession. I can hear the pitch: “Enter the profession that makes all others possible, and we will throw in 300 square feet of living space.”
Problem solved (sarcasm intended).
Do you need faces for these data? As Barnett Berry writes, “Stories make data more meaningful.” For the past two months, some of our nation’s best educators have been writing about the realities of teacher shortages from a retired superintendent who has given 42 years to education to those just launching their careers in education.
When you read these blogs, you realize that teacher shortages are real and so are the solutions. You will also realize that the shortages are a symptom of deeper issues. They are rooted in issues of race, poverty, preparation, low compensation, and societal values that say “anyone can teach.”
Truly seeing the problem in data and stories is a major step toward finding answers. Unblinkingly looking at issues allows us to begin to see ways to improve—kind of like the magic eye posters that were popular years ago. When you look hard enough that your eyes start to water, answers begin to appear.
Once we truly see the challenges, we begin to see ways to improve. The term “solution” is too strong a word. Big challenges require us to look for ways to improve, not mythical silver bullets. There is no better place to look for solutions than the people who see the challenges every day: teachers and administrators. Survey data are clear on what teachers need and why they leave.
Need answers that go beyond data points?
Tricia Ebner suggests that teachers celebrate each other.
John Holland sees the Richmond Teacher Residency as one way to improve retention through better teaching and learning.
Arizona is ground zero for teacher shortages. State funding levels are at -36.6% of what they were in 2008. Daniela Robles is leading work in her Arizona district to retain great teachers.
She is doing the work that can feed the “lions of our profession.” As Jose Vilson writes, the lions “roar for two purposes: to admonish those doing harm to our students and communities and to reorient us back into the work.”
Let’s listen to the roar that we can hear through numbers and names.
Join us and add your roar on the #teachershortage Twitter chat: Thursday, March 15 at 7pm EST.
Jon’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.