The reasons for becoming a teacher in the past were numerous. For some, it was the heart-felt desire to make the world a better place by helping children learn. For others it was simply a sound career choice based on the relative security of the position because of tenure and the good benefits didn’t hurt. Reasonable time off on holidays to enjoy family life was another compelling incentive to join the teaching ranks.
We can rule out getting rich as a reason for entering the profession, even back when salaries kept pace with inflation. Somethings don’t change! That said, teaching was largely viewed by society as being an honorable profession in which you could do good for the country and make a living for yourself and family. Teachers were not viewed as “glorified baby sitters,” but were respected by students and parents. I know I speak in generalizations, but from my own experience I believe my statements to be true.
I can only remember one time in my whole life where my Mom complained about a teacher and requested an in person meeting. (Bad teachers existed back then too) I also remember getting in trouble for misbehaving in class and having consequences for my behavior both in school and at home. My parents did not call the principal and complain about my punishment nor did they question the reasoning of the teacher. I was not told at home that it was the teachers fault I misbehaved, instead I was instructed to hand write a letter of apology and deliver it in person the next day. I am fairly certain there were no more problems after that.
For decades teachers were able to go about their mission of educating students while having a great deal of autonomy and a lot of amazing things happened. Schools graduated astronauts, doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, civil servants, generals, presidents and more. America achieved the greatest level of prosperity on earth. We built cars, home appliances, produced fabrics, made clothing, made steel, raised animals, grew fruits and vegetables and we saw our products shipped all over the world and we were the first to place feet and flag upon the moon. That all happened well before the notion of nationalized standards and the Department of Education even existed. (You might this video interesting. It raises some thought-provoking points)
Not so long ago if a college age student told their parents they wanted to become a teacher, their declaration would have been met with praise and the parents would have slept soundly knowing their child’s future looked secure and bright. My own parents received my declaration to become a teacher with great concern and skepticism. They are not against the profession of teaching at all, they simply watched and read the news and were therefore frightened for my future. Unruly students, helicopter parents, violence in the classroom, removal of tenure, high stakes testing, low teacher pay, teachers paying for supplies, were just a few of the uplifting news topics that kept them up at night. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Not a huge vote of confidence.
Unfortunately, my parents worries would triple as two of my brothers also became teachers, sorry Mom and Dad! Now I don’t have a time machine, but I think it is fair to say a lot has changed in education and not all of it has been for the better. Roughly 17% of all new teachers quit within the first 5 years (that number is much higher in some states) and teacher training enrollment has declined as much as 40% in some states and over 50% in California.
It is true some cities like NYC are facing a teacher surplus, with graduate degrees, certified teachers, having to settle for substitute positions until a full-time one arises, but this is not the norm. NYC is the exception not the rule, but even their surplus might not last for long. NYC teacher training programs are part of a current nation wide trend which sees enrollment in teacher preparation programs in steep decline. Couple this news with the reality that many current teachers are approaching retirement age with the fact that many new teachers quit and we have a real big problem. We can’t keep veteran teachers from retiring, but we can try to address the reasons new teachers leave and why many young people refuse to consider a future in teaching.
In part 2 we will dig deeper into these problems and highlight some solutions. We will also take a look at some positive developments in education and share some resources for those who are still considering a future in teaching. We sincerely hope you still are because the reality is no matter how bad things might be now, children still need great teachers in their lives. I forgot to mention that our collective future depends on an educated population if we are to survive and thrive as a civilization. No pressure at all future and current teachers of America.
Thank you for reading and for sharing and stay tuned for part 2.