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Teacher Shortage? What a Shock!

On July 12, the Indianapolis Business Journal ran an Associated Press piece reporting concerns over a looming teacher shortage in Indiana. According to the story, Indiana DOE data shows an alarming drop in teaching licenses issued—934 for the 2013-2104 school year. A mere six years earlier, that number was nearly 7500 (http://www.ibj.com/articles/53976-indiana-facing-chronic-teacher-shortage). That is a precipitous, foreboding, decrease. Older teachers are dropping like dust from a chalkboard (like ISTEP scores? like the intelligence of legislators? like instances of real learning in classrooms? Pick your own simile) and fewer and fewer candidates are available to replace them.   Having spent 38 years as an Indiana English teacher who stressed clarity and conciseness in writing, I have a simple reaction to this: DUH.

 Ask any veteran: teaching is not what it used to be. I entered the profession in 1975, eager to make a difference, the product of some tremendous teachers I strove to emulate and some horrible teachers I strove to drive from the profession. I had a wonderful 38 years teaching high school English—well, more like a wonderful 35 years. Although it took me several years to reach the point where I felt as though I knew what I was doing, I did reach that point, and I became what most of my students and colleagues seemed to feel was a highly effective teacher. All along the way I was awarded modest, but regular, increases in salary, at least enough that I could afford to keep at it. I garnered a few awards and accolades and ran what most of my graduates and I considered an excellent program. I knew what I was doing, and my success was made possible by the fact that I was lucky enough to have administrators who for the most part, left me alone. They even put me in charge of committees and gave me more responsibilities. Oh, they reined me in when I occasionally stepped over the bounds of good taste, but they realized I knew more than they did about my specific subject and that I had developed certain techniques that enabled me to draw things out of students that helped them succeed.   So they let me teach.

 But now I think I echo the sentiments of many of us veterans. I don’t fit in k-12 public ed any more, and if I were starting today, I could not be the type of teacher I was. My ability to develop relationships with students and to help them think for themselves, while highly appreciated by the students and their parents, was given only lip service and took a back seat to my ability to make up bullshit to fill out on a Rise evaluation. My hands were tied a bit tighter with each passing year and each mindless mandate handed down by moronic legislators and enforced by cookie-cutter administrators. Time to devote to my craft was stolen by each new regulation and standard I had to explain and work into my lesson plans. I stopped getting raises. I was at the top of the pay scale, and two teachers could be hired to replace me, two teachers who wouldn’t rock the boat, who wouldn’t challenge their bosses’ decisions, as I was wont to do. My administrators became less and less capable, more and more cogs in the wheel. And I could no longer be the teacher I once was.

 So I say “duh.” How can we expect this to sound attractive to college students?

 And even as I write this, I become aware of another major contributing factor to this looming teacher drought.

Mark Wright Column Lead

 I became a teacher because of teachers—I think this is true for most of us. And dozens of my students became teachers, much to my delight—over 20 in the corporation I taught in are former students of mine. Some of them even said they wanted to be like me in the classroom. But it reached the point that not even I could be like me in the classroom. So now, I warn them instead of encourage them. Well, at least I keep my mouth shut. And I feel terrible about that. Many would be great teachers, but I’m not sure they will be allowed in the current climate. I hope they find a situation in which they are left alone to thrive, to see their students succeed beyond their expectations, to feel tremendous satisfaction in their chosen careers. But it seems more likely they will end up in a situation in which they toil for years in a system which no longer has to increase their pay each year, which forces them to take orders from those who have no clue how to teach, which expects them to produce high test scores from all students, no matter their socio-economic status and home life, where they will be asked (told) to devote hours justifying their lesson plans in terms of educationese standards, and lose more real learning time each year to prepping their kids for stressful, useless tests so their administrators can unfairly compare them as if all their students possess the same capabilities. And their lovely, idealistic young minds will have to grow up.

 Some dear friends of mine, both educators, recently commented that they didn’t care what their almost-college-age daughters studied—as long as it wasn’t education. Many of us are regretfully steering kids away from what we once encouraged. This has to be having a huge impact, and it is profoundly sad.

 I suppose I sound bitter. I am not; I am incredibly disheartened and worried and frustrated, and I see very little light at the end of the tunnel. Do we have to bottom out before things begin to turn around? And what is the bottom? I keep thinking it has been reached, and then I wake up to see another mandated test.

 I find myself fervently hoping my grandchildren succeed in spite of school, not because of it. I feel like a traitor.


Photo Attribution:  Aerial shot of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Indiana, by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2005-August-29 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic.

About Mark Wright

After almost 40 years teaching high school English—most of them at South Vermillion—Wright now teaches composition part time at ISU. A member of the Wabash Valley Musicians’ Hall of Fame, Wright and his Band—The Crowe Committee—have become a popular attraction in the Terre Haute music scene.

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  1. Mr. Wright, I hear my Mother in your writing. She was a dedicated elementary teacher who retired from the North Vermillion School Corporation at 67 years of age. She was on top of the salary scale and was forced into retirement by a new Superintendent who saw the opportunity to hire two fresh out of college teachers to replace one long term teacher with a Masters Degree. My Mother was so heartbroken, she swore she would never substitute for the corporation, but due to her love of teaching and the children she taught, she substituted almost every day for the next five years.

    Now my son is teaching in the elementary school at North Vermillion and he and his colleagues are trying to deal with the same issues you spoke about. The State of Indiana needs to listen to the teachers who know what works and what doesn’t. I hear so much that they feel like thy are spending so much time preparing for another test that they don’t have time to teach what their students need to be learning.

    Keep posting. I heard you. Others will too, and maybe something can be done before our education system gets run totally off in the ditch.

  2. I greatly appreciate your writing. I am one of the few who did recently go in to education with the idealistic view of my educators in my mind. 6 years later I cannot get a teaching job because I do not fit the “new” definition of a teacher. I am extremely disheartened by the profession and its consistent struggles.

  3. Thank you for writing this article. I am a 35 year teaching/administrator. I, too, loved teaching business and loved being an admin. I chose to retire because I could see the stupid things coming at education. I got tired of “beating up” my teachers with each new initiative or brainstorm. I had hard working teachers who loved kids, but it was never enough. You are right. I am sick because I cannot recommend education as a career. The politicians are clueless, unkind, disrespectful, and have no knowledge of what it takes to be a teacher. Yet many of them are products of public education. Daniels and Bennett started this mess perpetuated by Pence. Not one of them does what is right for kids.

  4. It is so sad that many good teachers are so disheartened by the bull crap they have to do so that an administrator can fill out his or her mandated state forms. There is no time to teach! If the idiots who are directing education would just let us TEACH, we could MAYBE save education before it’s too far gone to ever be fixed. I taught for 34 years; and during that time, I was forced to leave a corporation I loved because I had too much education and experience and was, therefore, too expensive….regardless of the proven successes of my students. Our program for gifted and talented students was pretty much scrapped after we’d worked on developing it for about 20 years. To paraphrase a board member, we don’t really have any gifted students; we need to spend the money on the average students, instead. Even a first year teacher knows that we have ALWAYS taught to the middle!

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