A correspondent recently wrote me that, whereas it used to be that a typical teacher in his district had 20 years teaching experience, now it’s down to four years’ experience. (He himself just left the teaching profession after a brief stint.) I asked him what accounts for the quick exodus from teaching. Here’s what he responded.
The root cause is economics without question. I can summarize the largest factors, but it will hardly capture the entire problem.
- Especially since the 2010 Tea Party takeover, school budgets (I’m only speaking from Minnesota/Upper Midwest, but assume the same is true elsewhere), have faced draconian cuts. Teachers are continually laid off after only a year or two in the district. Schools can’t afford to keep promising young teachers. Even the wealthier communities in the Twin Cities no longer pass levies (local funding) for their schools.
- Whether rural, city, or suburbs, many students have come of age since 2008. That means they grew up with parent(s) out of work, working three jobs, or just crazy stressful family situations. The family/economic instability means they lack the access to the basics. By the time they step into the classroom, a huge percentage are far behind in every possible education metric that the task of teaching a novel/math/etc. becomes so daunting. Additionally, the problems with behavior in the classroom cannot be understated. The classroom has become unmanageable.
- Here is how Identify Politics compounds the problems in Education, and led to antagonistic relations between teachers/parents. No question, the classrooms are much more racially diverse than they have ever been. For example, many of my students were from Central America, Ethiopia, and Southeast Asia. Schools want to be inclusive as a result. However, they have pursued pyrrhic actions. I’ll give you the most extreme. I was told by my principal that I could not expect black students to read in my classroom. I was told that reading was culturally not an African American thing, and that I would have to find different ways to teach The Great Gatsby to my black students. This is an extreme example, but it sadly is not the exception for many teachers. On the flip side, a noisy minority of parents have responded to these Diversity, Equality & Inclusion (DE&I) efforts with meanness and brutal contempt. Caught between these extremes, teachers are leaving fast.
- Lastly, the Undergraduate and Graduate Education programs are completely inept. They don’t teach much at all, and have in turn, come to encompass DE&I in their own curriculum. The curriculum does not provide sorely needed concrete resources or pedagogy to navigate the problems in today’s classrooms. But you can learn how to take the Structural Racism out of your Mathematics curriculum.