A few weeks ago Nick Morrison wrote an article for Forbes titled “Sleepwalking Our Way into the Teacher-Less Classroom.” He insists that technology, specifically the takeover by online instruction in schools, is not the real danger facing education.
Instead, he claims it is a teacher shortage.
According to Morrison, teachers leave due to pressure, and if there are no more teachers left standing, the establishment has to move to online instruction because—well what else is there?
He was focused on England and he presented an audit report pointing to the problem there. England parallels America in its de-professionalization of teachers and the privatization of schools. The teacher shortage talk is just as prevalent here.
But the teacher shortage so-called concern has been around for thirty years! About the same time politicians and the Business Roundtable got together to figure out a way to privatize schools we began hearing about teacher shortages.
I think this is significant when you consider that a lot of harm has been done in the name of the teacher shortage.
For example, Teach for America was started in 1989 by Princeton student Wendy Kopp, supposedly to fill a void found in poor schools that didn’t attract teachers. We had all kinds of teacher shortage talk justifying TFA.
But it didn’t take long before Teach for America began vying against career teachers in urban areas around the country for jobs. There weren’t enough openings for everyone, but cities still paid TFA to come to work in their schools. They still do–all in the name of a teacher shortage!
Consider, however, Chicago, which has led America in draconian school reform. In 2010, Barbara Miner in a report about TFA in Rethinking Schools wrote:
There is also growing tension between schools of education and TFA over jobs for new teachers. The College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, for example, graduates about 300 certified teachers a year. The graduates, especially elementary teachers, are increasingly having difficulty finding jobs in the Chicago schools. “One reason is the number of jobs committed to Teach for America and similar programs, which have arrangements with the Chicago public schools,”notes Victoria Chou, dean of the College of Education.
So it didn’t look like a real teacher shortage in 2010. And this was happening in other cities as well.
But let’s say there is a teacher shortage that started thirty years ago. It appears that the shortages are in certain rural areas of the country and in subjects like science, math and special education. We have been hearing that concern forever!
Peter Greene looked at every state and noted the problems found keeping and/or recruiting teachers.
The larger question is why haven’t state politicians and local school districts tried harder to keep good teachers in schools?
In the last thirty years we have seen a damning of teachers like no one can believe! Teachers, once an established and well-respected profession, have been blamed for the ills of society.
Good teachers leave the classroom every day. Who’s stopping them? You’d think if there was a real shortage, superintendents would plead for these teachers not to leave.
If there had been a teacher shortage really, why haven’t we seen positive attempts to keep teachers and legitimately prepare new ones?
Here are some things that could have been done and could be done still.
- Create positive school climates—fix up school facilities. No one wants to work in mold and rat-infested classrooms where students are treated so poorly.
- Give teachers a voice in what and how they teach. Teachers should be the rightful owners of their classes.
- Quit condemning teachers (and students) on the basis of high-stakes test scores. We know there are outside factors that affect how a student learns—lead poisoning is one terrible example.
- Improve Colleges of Education and demand authentic teachers with degrees and credentials that included child development and special education areas. Do not permit groups like Relay Graduate School of Education, run without legitimate education degrees, take over teacher preparation.
- Emphasize child development at the level the teacher instructs. Teachers should understand the development of the age-level of the students they teach along with content knowledge. Someone from Teach for America with a degree in political science should not be permitted to teach kindergarten. They know little about that age group.
- Work to keep older teachers teaching. What about adding part-time teaching positions to the schedule? Quit trying to push older, more experienced teachers out. Tell me why there are teacher buyout out plans if there is a legitimate teacher shortage.
- Provide incentives starting with respect. Schools should be laboratories where teachers figure out new methods of instruction, and where they can collaborate with other professionals to assist students.
- Inspire older high school students to go into teaching. High schools should offer student career clubs that provide young people with opportunities to volunteer with children and where teachers mentor students about what it is like to teach.
These are just a few solutions, but my guess is they will fall on deaf ears, because the teacher shortage, if there is one, is mostly fabricated. Or it has been allowed to happen so teachers can be replaced with computers.
Where do the fast-track-made TFA types fit? With little expertise in understanding children, at least they know how to plug students into the machines and manage the classroom so no one gets out of line with their behavior. They can learn to follow the data and will make perfect online facilitators for two years, before they move on to their preferred jobs.
That’s why I think Morrison is wrong. The teacher shortage excuse is being used to end the teaching profession. And technology has been waiting in the background all along. We should all fear that this is the future of education.