Teacher Shortage Won’t End Anytime Soon!

June 10, 2016

An editorial in this week’s Fargo Forum applauded ND State Senator Flakoll for his plan to assist the funding of college students who choose education as their field of study and teaching as their profession. Senator Flakoll says he plans to propose a constitutional amendment to set up a fund to provide ongoing monetary support to students who choose to enroll in teacher education programs with an obligation to teach in North Dakota. He, like many state leaders in North Dakota, as well as throughout the US, have recently become aware of a teacher shortage and are showing their concern in ways that are commendable….but….won’t work.

Why won’t the current solutions work?

Two reasons, each a part of the other:

  1. Not a lot is known about why college bound students don’t select education as their field of study. Many leaders have made assumptions and drawn their own conclusions, but they do so without seeking to discover the real reasons why teaching is not attracting a next generation of young people entering the profession.
  2. Teaching is simply not an attractive career choice for today’s youth. It is especially unattractive to those we now refer to as millennials. And for those of us who live in states with large rural areas that are sparsely populated, and in which the schools exist in small communities, the shortage is made worse by the reluctance of college graduates to live in small towns, particularly if the individual is single.

The most shocking statistic, which for me defines the magnitude of the crisis, is this. As recently as the late 20th Century those entering teacher education accounted for up to 14% of all college students. In 2010 that figure had dropped to 4%! Combine that with a rapidly retiring baby boomer generation and a trend of early retirement for those in the teaching profession, and the result is a crisis that will get worse before it gets better. And it won’t get better any time soon.

Will money solve the problem? It is part of the solution, but not where it is being applied – at the point of entry. Do we think that students are not entering post-secondary teacher education programs because they lack the money? Everyone agrees that a college education is quickly becoming monetarily unreachable for many students and their families because it is so expensive. But that problem is general, not specific to teacher education.

Do we really think that our youth pick careers based on the money offered them to pay for the college education required to become qualified to enter a profession? Doesn’t that contradict all the time and effort that society, and its education system, puts into assisting our youth learn about careers and build the skills that are related to the aspiration we carefully attempt to shape? Come on….
My blog, my solution. What do we do?

  1. Let’s stop salving our sensibilities by only expecting and publishing testimonials from teachers who love the job of teaching. Value of something ought to be inherent, not assigned. In most cases value can’t be assigned, it must be inherent. Apparently the job of being a teacher isn’t all that attractive, if the total number of individuals pursuing the occupation drops by nearly 70% in just a generation.
  2. We need to change the way education is managed, particularly at the school level. A strict hierarchical organizational system, which most schools have, doesn’t align well with what the school is attempting to do. Schooling is ultimately about learning, not conforming. Learning is about seeking truth, finding facts, seeking causes, understanding effects. Conforming is about interpreting opinions, accepting rather than challenging authority, seeking favor rather operating without fear or favor. Most schools in America are kingdoms and are managed in that manner.
  3. Once the teachers become more than peasants, then we need to help them make the best use of their minds, their time and their resources. We need to get them out of the business of classroom management and knowledge announcements. What they are good at and should be good at, is their ability to learn and their ability to articulate and share that ability….if they were supported to do so. We pull this off by individualizing education via technology. Computers for every student, and every course designed and developed by experts for computers accessible to students. The teachers guide. The teachers facilitate. The teachers mentor. The teachers assess. The teachers communicate to the administration what resources they need and the authority they must have to get the job done. And the administration responds.
  4. We need to pay teachers commensurate with what they are providing – an absolutely necessary, high-level, complex service.

Radical change? In some ways yes, in other ways no. Public and private education, as we know it, would be radically changed, but as many of us experienced and now have memories of learning outside the classroom, what I am proposing is no or very little change. We had to sort out the real from the make believe. We had to find a balance between necessary conformance and imperative resolution. We sought out mentors who had strength of conviction. We all wanted and continue to want to be fairly compensated for what we do.

Is my proposal possible? Yes. I know because it is slowly taking shape at one school – ND Center for Distance Education. Can what we have established spread? That is hard to say. Stay tuned.

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