Pondering the teacher shortage

Workers’ Correspondence

There is no arguing that teaching is one of the most emotionally draining professions due to the fact that teachers must put so much of their personal selves into their work every day. Coming out of college in the spring of 2001, I felt ready to take on such an endeavor, knowing that the job would take me through many trying moments. Early on, I had anticipated that most of my hardships would come from troublesome students, but I soon came to realize that issues surrounding classroom management would be overshadowed by the amount of tedious work handed down from the administration. This year, amidst stacks of paperwork, shaky contract proposals, and a potential strike, it has been easy for educators to lose focus on what is supposed to matter most: the kids.

In America, those in the field of education have long been under-appreciated. Every summer, numerous teaching positions open up and this void is expected to increase during the next decade. Why there is such an availability of jobs in the field of education when a declining market has cut back on hundreds of thousands of other jobs nationwide. Is teaching such an undesirable job?

In Chicago Public Schools (CPS), teachers must go through lengthy programs and a number of requirements for certification. Even after acquiring a position, before consideration for a tenure track where there is some type of job security, one must go through a new teachers program. Teachers must complete additional state testing in order to maintain their initial teaching certificates. Certainly, the prerequisites one must complete on the journey to becoming a veteran teacher and the high turnover rate among new teachers is no coincidence.

However, the criteria for teachers to gain and maintain proper certification is not in itself the problem. Most occupations have programs that are helpful in creating well-rounded professionals. However, within the field of education, there is little financial support either for those required to add to their credentials or for those who voluntarily choose to further their own education. On the other hand, in the business sector, employers pay for their employees to continue education or offset these cost with sufficient pay. They see the value in improving their employees in order to enrich overall performance. Unfortunately, teachers must pay their own way for programs that strengthen their craft. Hence, many teachers are not motivated enough or financially able to attend enrichment programs.

One of the main issues surrounding the contract for CPS teachers was the increase in pay (or lack thereof) with an expanded workday. The new contract also increased medical co-payments and other costs for adequate health care.

No contract could make up for how undervalued teachers have been over the last decade. For a young teacher, one of the most frightening things within the public school system is the awareness that your employer does not fully respect you, and the evidence of decades of action that this attitude is not going to change any time soon. Teachers new to CPS get annual salary increases of around seven or eight percent, but if you have worked for CPS more than a dozen years your pay levels off and is locked in for the next four years at four percent with the newly-adopted contract.

Most teachers, being equipped with college degrees, have greater mobility in the job market. They naturally look to switch professions after being met with poor wages, benefits, and the amount of bureaucracy they have to go through before being able to teach children.

Public schools lose credibility, politicians put added pressure on teachers, good teachers quit, and children lose focus and drop out, thereby spinning the cycle around another full turn. In the field of education, the outcome is that retaining valuable teachers becomes increasingly difficult. Unfortunately, the importance of a child’s education will not take priority in public education until the value of maintaining good teachers is treated as being essential to that education.

– A. B. Wilkinson, Chicago high school teacher (pww@pww.org).