may be worse than thought" read the headline in the Duluth News-Tribune, Wednesday,
March 10, 1999. "Teachers who call it quits cause concern" was the lead to a
story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune the very same day. 1.A report released by the
Center for School Change states that teacher shortages in some areas may be worse than
anticipated, not because of increases in retirements, but because so many teachers are
leaving the field.
At the Education Minnesota
Governing Board meeting March 4, Co-President Judy Schaubach reported that 30% of the
nations teachers leave teaching within the first five years. Others stated that about
one-third leave during the first seven years. Perhaps many persons would assume that this
is in large part due to some 2.teachers coming to realize that teaching is not the
right profession for them. It may be that they are not having a lot of success,
or earning a lot of money, or having a lot of fun. They may not have been
properly prepared for the reality of teaching in the modem classroom. Could it be
that universities do a poor job of preparing prospective teachers for kids who
threaten, parents who sue, administrators who don't support, communities
which complain and politicians desiring to meddle? Is there a chapter in the
pre-teaching textbook dealing with how to learn to accept kids who swear at you? Is there
no section in Education 1023568-006321 dealing with how to report an assault. Maybe it's
due to poor preparation, or reality, or pay. A large percentage of teachers opt out after
only a few years. We really aren't that surprised.
We are surprised to learn that three-quarters of Minnesota
teachers leave before retirement. Wow! Even 3.Joe Nathan, director of the Center for
School Change (not to be confused with the Center for School Improvement) was
startled. Said Joe, "This is one of the most surprising, stunning and startling
studies I've ever worked on." I'd go him one better. I think it's frightening.
What does this study tell us about the teaching profession? Why
do so many people leave? Joe Nathan does not profess to have the answer (one of the few
times he'll admit this). He suggests that teachers may leave because of salaries that are
too low by the standards of a booming economy and a growing bureaucracy represented by the
new Profile of Learning Graduation Rule. Gee, this comes to us from a true champion of the
Grad Rule and a frequent critic of teacher salaries. He also suggests that the state ought
to come up with ways of improving teacher preparation to avoid classroom failures that can
drive teachers out of the classroom. Beyond this, he has no clue. 4.Good grief! This
guy claims to be an expert on education. He is someone who left teaching. You would
think that he would have some idea of what every teacher knows.
What do we know that Joe and the other experts cannot seem to
grasp? 5.The best part of teaching is the reward one gets from sharing knowledge and
imparting skills to kids. Sometimes you feel like you've done some real good. However,
that same warm fuzzy feeling can quickly dissipate when some kid threatens you, or swears
at you, or just walks off when you are talking to him or her. It's hard to feel that your
class is important when a lot of kids just don't show up, or are excused to be a part of
something more important. How easy do the experts think it is for teachers to open the
paper in the morning to find yet another article critical of public education?6. Have
they ever had to listen to their own (now former) superintendent criticize the same system
of education which he represents?
7.Have they watched in horror as their school board helped
create a for-profit school to take their students and jobs? It isn't much fun to
listen to the latest political, education, expert, candidate for President, or Governor,
or dog catcher expound on vouchers.
Teachers know that for the last fifteen years public education
and teachers have been under attack.
8."The Nation at Risk" started it, The economy was
bad so the experts blamed teachers and public education. Today the economy is great. Where
does the credit go? It goes to big business. Those who attack us make
headlines. Those who support us are all too often given little mention.
Salaries do play a part in teachers both not actually entering
education and leaving early. With a good economy there is a lot more competition for
talented people. Many people feel that salary is a reward both for skills brought to a job
and success on the job. 9.Starting pay for teachers does little to attract the best and
the brightest and top salaries do not keep people in the profession.
10.How many other professions have to go through what we go
through to get the raises we receive?
11.Negotiations season is equated with open season on teachers.
We often feel that instead of being given a teaching license we should be given a target.
Every goofball group in the community gets to take shots at us. 12.The folks at
Northwest Airlines don't have to contend with the FIGHT (does it actually stand for Figure
I'll Go Hate Teachers?) people. When we do get a small raise we are immediately blamed
for causing reductions in budget and programs, thus hurting kids. 13.The radio talk
shows are jammed with callers anxious to expound on how little we work, the lack of our
accomplishments and the extent of our greed. If we were paid enough to justify the
treatment we receive, a lot of teachers would still quit.
The Grad Rule may play a part in causing teachers to leave, but
not to the extent that Mr. Nathan believes. Sure, it is for the most part, a crock. It
does guarantee confusion and expense rather that learning and improvement. I still don't
think that it is the main reason teachers leave the profession. After all, it hasn't been
around long enough to explain the mass exodus. For great many teachers the Grad
Rule/Profiles of Learning is more of a last straw.
A few paragraphs ago I stated that I felt that the results of the
study were frightening. They should be. The question is what does this tell us about
teaching when three-quarters of teachers leave before retirement? If we were dealing with
any other profession, there would immediately be some sort of blue ribbon panel or task
force established. What if this percentage of doctors was quitting? How about airline
pilots, or engineers, or computer programmers? Would the nation be at risk? What is at
risk here are our teachers. What is at risk here are our students. What is at risk is
public education. 14.People like Joe Nathan should know. After all, they are the
Frank Wanner, President