My grandfather belonged to what Tom Brokaw described as “The Greatest Generation”. My grandpa was raised during the great depression and went on to serve his country in Patton’s 3rd Armored Division in World War II. But my grandpa’s greatest accomplishment wasn’t growing up poor or surviving the perils of the European theater. My grandpa’s greatest accomplishment was seeing to it that my father got an education. My grandpa was a high school dropout. Just like many of America’s youth of the Greatest Generation, my grandpa quit school to join the Army. He did what he thought he had to do at the time; but he never stopped pushing my dad to go to college.
One of my fondest memories as a young boy was watching my father graduate from Cameron University with a degree in business that was paid for with my dad’s G.I. Bill. My dad earned his college tuition by surviving the jungles of Vietnam. When he returned home he met my mom, got a job, got married, started a family (I’m the oldest of two), and went to college at night. My mom was a teacher’s aide who later went back to school to become a teacher. She retired from Cyril Elementary school last year after 30 years of service. When my dad died, I was a sophomore in college; it was my grandpa who made sure I went back to finish my degree. I told you all those things about my family to set up my point: Education is not just something my family believes in, education is what we do.
This brings me to the purpose of this blog: my family is a family of educators; I married an educator from a family of educators. I’m the son of a teacher, and my wife is the daughter of a teacher. However, our daughters don’t want to become teachers. And what is worse is I don’t want them to be teachers. This is the root of the teacher shortage in my opinion. Teaching used to be a profession just like cops or lawyers; sons and daughters following in the family footsteps and carrying on the family business. But not anymore. Why? It is because there is another American tradition that my grandpa instilled in the family: work hard and work smart to make sure the next generation has it better than you. The current educational climate and culture has made it impossible for the next generation of teacher to have it better than the one before.
Although the direct cause of the teacher shortage can be blamed on many things. Teacher pay, lack of autonomy, adverse work conditions, being blamed for societal ills, being branded as part of the problem and not viewed as a resource for any of the solutions, teacher pay (yes, I meant for it be listed twice), high stakes testing, or any of the other various reasons are contributing to teachers leaving our profession. However, the real reason we have a teacher shortage is because no one is entering our profession. Teaching can no longer support and sustain itself as a profession. We are becoming extinct.
To fill in the gaps, we are applying for emergency certifications, alternative certifications, filling teacher-less classrooms with adjunct teachers or other non-highly qualified adults. What we aren’t doing is solving the teacher shortage issue. Not only are our political leaders not doing anything about fewer and fewer college students entering teacher prep programs, very few of them are even interested in having the discussion about teacher shortage.
Our political leaders are more interested in scoring political points by advocating for closing small rural schools because we have too many public school districts while at the same time clamoring for more “school choice” in the form of online charter schools, vouchers, ESA’s, and private school options. What we aren't doing is:
We aren’t having conversations about changing the culture for teachers, so more college students enter teacher prep programs.
We are not having enough discussions about raising teachers’ bring home pay to the average salary of other college degree professions in Oklahoma.
We are not working day and night to make teacher’s jobs less of a struggle.
We are not making the profession of education a job in which today’s teachers will start encouraging children to one day grow up to be a teacher.
Education will never be a destination for those students who only dream of being a millionaire. But teaching should be a career choice for those students who are just like Tom Brokaw’s greatest generation and just like my grandpa: for those who want to make the world a better place.