I just read a report that shocked me. While surveying the faculty in my home state, the Department of Education received a huge number of responses. In fact, normally our DOE expects ten percent of those surveyed to actually reply. I guess our teachers had a lot on their mind, because about half sent back answers. The survey must have hit a nerve.
Approximately 70 percent of the 53,000 faculty surveyed said they are “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to encourage graduates to enter the profession and become teachers. In other words: “Hey, I’m in this job, and I don’t suggest you do what I did.” Only a trifling 2.7 percent said they’d encourage graduates to become teachers.
What a sad commentary on the current state of affairs.
I think we’d all agree, teaching isn’t what it used to be. Most teachers I meet become my heroes, but they are unsung heroes, often laboring in an emotionally expensive classroom with students who don’t want to be there (and say so). So, now, our teachers are saying the same thing. They are so frustrated with their jobs, they are reluctant to encourage anyone else to do it.
Why is this? Let me venture a guess from my observations.
- The system pushes them to “teach for the test.”
According to a 2015 Bayer Survey Facts of Science Education, “nearly all teachers believe ‘hands on’ science lessons serve kids best, but 4 out of 5 teachers say their school teaches for the test.” I don’t think most teachers are poor at their work. I think they are in a system that is broken. Even the best and brightest can quit.
- Our society doesn’t esteem the teaching profession like it once did.
“Somewhere in this country, we have decided that teaching is not the most respected career and that’s a problem,” said Tomeka Hart, Executive Director of the Southern Education Foundation. In fact, parents are often combative with faculty, defending their child’s behavior or poor grades. Parents are teachers’ top headache.
- Standardized testing forces faculty to process more than teach.
I recognize people disagree on this issue, but one thing is for sure. “Teachers are frustrated and part of that is a lot of paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. Testing. Testing. Testing,” said Ernie Lee, 2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year, who teaches at Windsor Forest High School in Savannah. They’re forced to record so much that they’ve lost the energy to engage in their real work of connecting with kids.
- Students often lack respect for teachers.
Many schools we work with say discipline issues are on the rise. Students are empowered by parents to see themselves as “customers” who deserve special treatment and even perks for participation. Many kids don’t look up to teachers. “There’s a disrespect now for authority, for education, for ethics, for morality,” said Verdallia Turner, President of the Georgia Federation of Teachers.
Why Is This a Problem?
May I say the obvious? Due to salaries being tied to standardized test scores and poor campus cultures in many places, we may see college graduates turn from a career in education to do something more rewarding. Less emotionally expensive. More life-giving. Less taxing. This is sad. I believe teaching should be one of the most admired and sought after career choices for university students. It is all about engaging the next generation, helping them prepare to make their mark, to solve the world’s problems and to serve the needs around them. Becoming a teacher is about betting on the future. If we don’t have our best people graduating into this career, we are all in trouble. It ought to be one of the first places we encourage our young people to invest their lives, not the last place. It is up to us, however, to change this issue.
So, this week, may I embolden you to start now:
- Write an encouraging note to a teacher—either a current or a past teacher.
- Come to their aid. Defend the profession, when it surfaces in conversation.
- Recognize teaching gifts in students and suggest they use them as adults.
- Challenge the brightest students you know to enter the field of education.
- Get involved and weigh in on issues at your local Board of Education, if you can.
- Volunteer whenever possible, adding value to your local schools or students.
- Push for collaboration between parents and teachers. Too often they’re at odds.
- Ask a principal or a teacher how you can provide aid where it’s needed most.
Let’s start a quiet revolution that puts education back on top of the career wish list.