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A lot of press has been generated recently about the crisis we are now facing in education, a teacher shortage. Blogger Peter Greene did a fantastic job of breaking down the situation state-by-state in this blog post a few days ago. Greene noted, “But mostly we need a new word, because we're not really talking about a shortage of teachers—we're talking about a lack of incentives and an excess of disincentives to go into teaching.”

Teacher Shortages

When you take a look at the latest report produced by the US Department of Education the data shows that every state in the country except for Pennsylvania has reported a teacher shortage for the 2015-2016 school year. Some states show the number of categorical shortages to be higher than other, with Idaho seeming to need the most types of teachers.

What becomes apparent however, when looking through the different lists from year to year is that the number of teacher area shortages has risen from the 1990-1991 school year to the current year. During the 1990-1991 school year, the number of categories of teachers needed ranged from zero to nine. Now the range of shortages falls between zero and 43!

What is also noticeable is the types of teachers in the states that are reporting shortages. In the early years of the report, the most seen categories of teachers in need were special education teachers. Of course, there are more categories of teachers today than there were in 1990. State governments and certification programs have realized the profit that can be made in creating more licensure needs in order to collect more fees, but we are now seeing categories of shortages listed that include our main subject areas, Mathematics, English/Language Arts, Science, History, and Social Studies. These are concerning trends.

Ask any teacher why they first got into teaching and you will get a varied list of responses. But most of those responses tend to have similarities. Some teachers will respond with something like this: “I have always had a love of learning and knowledge.” These are the teachers that find intrinsic value in having and understanding information. They see the need to learn from history to make better decisions in the future, the benefit of understanding different math processes to be able to look at problems and use logic to solve them; they apply various methods of the scientific hypothesis when researching. More likely than not, they are the people that have a stack of three or four books that are all currently in the process of being read, at the same time. With that love of learning comes the deep rooted desire to share that love with someone else.

Other teachers, we think usually elementary teachers, will automatically respond with a bright smile and say “Because I love kids!” These are the teachers that you find in the middle of bright, cheery classrooms. Rooms that have usually been set up over the summer and contain wonderful organizational items with labels in all colors of the rainbow. These are the teachers that are not afraid of messy hands and joyful hugs. Many phone calls home, daily parent logs, holiday decorations, stickers, stamps, cleaning wipes and plenty of soap are all very familiar to these teachers. These are the children that are there for the joy of childhood and are dedicated to preserving it.

Another group of responses will sound something like this: “I know the value of a good education and I believe I am responsible for providing that opportunity to our future generations.” Often this type of teacher can be found working within the community after school or on weekends. Many times they will volunteer for food shelters, to collect items for clothing drives, coach sports at the community center, or become involved in a neighborhood cleanup event. There are the teachers whose lives are deeply rooted in their communities and understand the need to work towards strengthening the development of a strong community to build a better future.

The teachers with a sense of humor will answer “I wanted summers off!” This is done in jest as those teachers think about the hours that are spent during the summer lesson planning, attending conferences, completing online courses, writing curriculum, searching online for lesson ideas and coming up with new ideas to become better at what they do. These are the teachers that maybe were not quite sure of what exactly they were getting into, but because of a love of many aspects of the profession, have stayed and made this into a career, and a life.

But the question that is causing so many issues these days is when we ask “What exactly makes a better teacher?” It is apparent that there are many different viewpoints and the politics behind these viewpoints are causing a lot of discord in the world of education.

So much discord in fact that experienced teachers are leaving the profession, and new teachers are not starting.

Why is it that people with the above mentioned beliefs are abandoning education, a career they dedicated their lives to?

Why are people that have dedicated their life to education suddenly leaving the profession?

We asked people that have left the profession to share why they have chosen to leave or retire early. A lot of stories share similarities but there is one underlying reason that seems to have caused the events that have led up to this teacher exodus. The intrusion of political and personal self interest in the education world. Instead of creating a relationship where the trusted experts are sought out to find solutions, a false belief of “We know what is best for education” has been created by politicians, corporations, and individuals interested in making a profit.

May people replied to our question and reading through the answers, different types of responses began to look similar. The main type of response could be gathered together into a category that could be titled, “Where is the joy of learning? Education reforms are not for children.” Other responses included stories of unfair evaluations, administrative bullying and not being treated like a professional. But it really boils down to the fact that education reforms are NOT for the children. Everything else that occurs as a conflict within schools is a direct result of that fact.

The following is a sampling of some of those stories. There is a lot to read through but we felt it was important to have these stories told and found it hard not to include any of them.

Education reforms are not in the best interest of the students

After 20 years of teaching a wonderful school, surrounded by amazing—life changing— teachers, and coming to work with joy and enthusiasm most every day, I watched my colleagues for the last few years, wither up, their eyes became heavy and dark, many of our senior/master teachers quit or retired early and lunch hours—if we got together at all—which were usually full of idea sharing and laughter—were full of conversations of concern for kids, confused at why our nation was doing this to its future and frustration that the community at large was allowing this to happen to their beloved schools.

Fit, happy people had gained weight—heavy stress weight, not the kind from a few too many delicious meals—and the parking lot would empty the minute our contracted time hit the hour, whereas before you would find people in their classrooms usually an hour early and more often than not, more than an hour later than contract time. For the first time I started to think seriously about retirement, became angered and frustrated when I realized that California will not let me collect the social security I paid into outside of teaching, and then I looked in the mirror and realized I looked and felt like all my other colleagues, both older and younger than me.

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It was a wash of sadness that came over me. I am counting the days (it will be years) and praying for a miracle. Praying that the United States of America will be taken back by the people and fight for privacy rights again, fair and equal taxes and restore public education as a right and not a commodity—removing the for profiteering component and giving it back to the States, the communities and the teachers to do as we are called to and qualified to do—teach the future leaders, innovators and care takers of the United States of America—land of the free and home of the brave.

Education reforms are no longer in the best interest of the students

I'm still hanging in there. I will be starting my 44th year in another week. But many, many of my friends have left the field recently. All are/were amazing teachers. They just don't like what they are being forced to do because of the damage they see. It's like teaching in a straight jacket. Me? I'm doing what I can to make an "oasis of good" in my classroom.

Teaching to the test has ruined instruction.

No Child Left Behind, testing and teaching to the test, terrible pacing plans, and Open Court took my fun and creativity away and I became an instructional robot. So I took very early retirement and now I volunteer to cover classes when teachers at my local elementary school have scheduled meetings. I really enjoy it without putting up with what the teachers have to put with today. There is still a joy at standing in front of a class, listening to the students read, asking them questions, and occasionally when the teacher is gone longer than expected using thinking games and improvisation to enrich the students. Interacting with the students remains a great pleasure!

I retired at age 60 after 37 years teaching because the stress of dealing with the continuing budget cuts, the emphasis on testing not children, the loss of support personnel, and the "reforms" that were being instituted, led to physical problems, namely A-fib. The lack of support for my class of 25, 12 of which were either receiving psychological care or suffering from PTSD.

I am not trusted as a professional

I taught high school English and journalism for 27 years. First they controlled and destroyed my journalism program, then they controlled and destroyed what I could teach in English.

I would if I could. Sick of being disrespected, told how to teach, what to teach, when to teach, what strategies to use for a discipline that only those of us educated in it actually understand. Disgusted and dismayed that teachers have been pillaged & plundered out of our traditional role as the "keepers of the flame" and reduced to mere facilitators (which is really just another way of saying underpaid babysitters). Tired of being treated as an insignificant employee when they expect us to put in professional hours and maintain a professional persona without requisite professional salary.

Teacher bullying/Evaluation methods that undermine/Loss of job security

I worked in an early roll-out district which started using VAM/CCSS before many districts did, in fall of 2012...i was forced to retire early when my excellent evals of 28 years became failing evals...and also because district eliminated all librarians, two weeks before school ended, and would not let me apply for classroom positions...i had no choice i could find (this was like six weeks before BATs) so i had to retire early and lose most of my pension benefits

have had it on my radar for three years now - can't afford to, or I would. STRESS!! This is a much more stress-loaded profession than it was my first year teaching in 1987 with a very low group of kids, a textbook adoption with another first year teacher, and a brand new school building with $100,000 worth of error retrofits! If any of the past 3 years would have been my first or second, I'd be long gone. The only reason I'm still in is that I got a specialist position, so I have no grading, no parent conferences, and no state testing, so I can JUST concentrate on curriculum. (And meetings....) (And after 4 pink slips, 2 years in temp positions, 4 school changes, and now 2 more room changes just this summer... to think back that I chose this profession for the JOB SECURITY??!!)

I would have worked four more years to make 40 but I became anxious about teachers always being blamed for everything that went wrong. I got tired of the negative atmosphere that was developing. I retired in 2008 with 36 years of service.

I left teaching after 8 years total private and public. There was entirely too much bullying and harassment. During my husband’s illness and death last year I was treated horribly. Harassed while he was in ICU about IEPS by my supervisor and treated unfairly by administration. I loved the children, but couldn't take the adults.

As seen in the testimonials we have gathered, teachers are leaving for a variety of reasons. The reasons have nothing to do with just plain old retiring but have more to do with the current climate generated by corporate education reform. Renowned and award winning New York Principal Carol Burris stated in a current piece for the Network for Public Education Foundation:

“If we are to turn this trend around, we need to act now to not only stop the attacks on teachers and tenure, but to stop evaluation systems designed to fire teachers based on metrics that no one understands. And we cannot forget that pay and working conditions matter. It should also come as no surprise that in states that pay teachers relatively well like New York State, the shortage does not yet exist. Even so, enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the Empire State dropped 22% in two years time. Many factors are contributing to the decline.

It is time for policymakers to step back and chart a different course. It makes no sense to cling to failed reforms. As school begins, students across the country are paying a hefty price.

How ironic it would be if the reforms based on the belief that three great teachers in a row are the key to the student success, result in students not having certified teachers at all.”

It is time to ask some very hard questions. But perhaps the hardest one we will have to answer will come from the children, and they will ask, “Where have all the teachers gone? Why are people that have dedicated their life to education suddenly leaving the profession?”

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What will our answers be?

Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson
Badass Teachers Blog

For more stories, please see the Badass Teachers Blog.