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article imageRunning out of teachers: a very ugly story

By Paul Wallis     Aug 27, 2007 in World
The Blackboard Jungle is turning into a Teacher Desert. Thousands of experienced teachers are retiring, and the new generation of teachers aren’t staying. The Los Angeles district has only signed 500 of the 2500 teachers it needs.
It’s a national problem. Poor areas are, inevitably, the worst hit. Bonuses are being offered in many areas, but the retirement of baby boomer teachers is creating a huge void, and nobody seems too sure if they can fill it.
This New York Times obituary for the teaching profession as the world knew it makes grim reading, not least because somebody apparently doesn’t believe there’s necessarily a problem, just attrition. Others are calling it a crisis.
(NYT articles sometimes default to a login screen. Register, it's free.)
Here’s a sample of the situation. California expects to need 100.000 teachers in the next decade. In the present environment, younger teachers aren’t staying. Commerce is offering better salaries and certainly less stressful employment. One estimate of teacher turnover is that half of the teachers trained are gone after five years. So California might need 100,000 teachers, but they have a reasonable chance of employing 200,000 people to fill those positions, and gaps will obviously occur while they’re replacing the replacements. Musical chairs, with more chairs than people.
The departures are highly disruptive, and create disorder in whatever the schools might conjure up as the mix to cover their needs at any given moment. The Department of Education stats are particularly worrying, to anyone who can still read. Of the 3.2 million public school teachers, 269,000 quite in 2003-4. Of those, more than half left either for another career or because of dissatisfaction.
The bonuses seem to be helping attract new teachers in some cases. But it doesn’t read like there’s much resembling a national strategy, or even a policy, regarding the simple need of having the teachers in place to do the jobs. New teachers are being thrown in, and some are throwing themselves right back out.
I have strong feelings about the global disaster area that’s being made out of education. It’s almost as if someone hates the very idea of education. A good education, anywhere, now costs a fortune. The education system as a whole, however, is starving for funds, as well as teachers. Low wages for teachers, school violence, crime, low budgets, the anti-intelligence culture, there’s a sickening list as long as any piece of string could hope to be, regarding fundamental problems in education. To me it’s a recipe for social failure on a colossal scale.
It’s also hard to conceive of a more effective way of persuading people not to become teachers. In every other profession, even lawyers and hairdressers, there’s some sort of incentive. Where’s the encouragement to become a teacher? If you become a gangster, or a corporate mass job-murderer, you’re a social hero, in that sort of society. (There must be some difference between those two; if you know what it is, could you please tell me? Even a guess would be interesting.)
You become a teacher, you’re some sort of masochist. The encouragement is some sort of vague old stereotype, where Mr. Chips is revered by his kids, and dies with an orchestra and end credits. A bright future assured for his charges, Mr. C is borne aloft by angels wearing mortar boards.
See any inconsistencies with this tale of chronic berserk apathy? They're not hiring checkout clerks, these are supposed to be the people training the next generation. Really, you wouldn't think so, reading this.
Half of these kids now in high school could not be said to be able to read and write. Their ability to handle, let alone analyze, information is in some cases bordering on non-existent. What in the name of the Gods of Scatology are people paying for? Where’s all this “dynamic management” and “social leadership” we keep hearing so much about? Where are the politicians? Or is this yet another issue beneath their notice?
The NYT article doesn't need paraphrasing, it needs a moment of silence.
This may be the only article I’ve ever had to apologize for drawing to people’s attention.
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