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 (https://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.
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.