What's Behind the U.S. Teacher Shortage?

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Answer by Judy Levy Pordes, retired teacher, school leader for 40 years:

Teaching is not a particularly well-respected position. Many people do not want to be a part of a profession that is often looked down upon. Too many of today's politicians and corporate leaders talk about the poor quality of teachers without having any idea of what they are talking about. They've never been in a classroom.

I find that when I mention to others, particularly the techies in Silicon Valley, that I recently retired from teaching, the response is a mumbled, "Oh, that's nice," and they move on. Virtually no one asks any questions about what I did except perhaps what I taught. Many (most?) people think that someone's salary is a reflection of his or her status, so teachers, who don't make much money, are therefore low in terms of respect.

Teachers don't get much respect in schools, either. All too often administrators in public school, sometimes in the school itself and sometimes districtwide, set down rules, expectations, etc., that teachers are required to follow. Too frequently these demands on teachers require them to do things that the teachers know will be time-consuming and will detract from their teaching. They don't have a positive impact in the classroom. But the teachers have no choice. Teachers' voices are not heard enough nor sufficiently requested when it comes time for decision-making.

Many teachers have acquired loans going to college. Their potential salaries will do little to help them repay their debt and still have a materially comfortable life.

Nowadays, anyone good in math or science can make a lot more money in industry rather than in teaching. So fewer strong students go into teaching.

Also, since the 1960s, more women have wider options for employment. Before that time, most college-educated women became either teachers or nurses; those were really their only choices. So now, fewer teaching candidates are available.

Too many teachers are "evaluated" on the basis of statewide tests in their classes. This is ridiculous. There are so many variables within a class of students on a given day that one test cannot accurately reflect how good a teacher is. (Example: I had a student who was getting grades mostly in the B-plus range. Toward the end of the semester, her grades suddenly dropped. After the first poor test, I asked her to meet with me before the next test so we could go over the material. We set a time. She never showed up. Her grade in that test was D. When I probed a bit more, I discovered that her mother was in rehab for a third time and she was living with her stepfather, whom I knew she disliked. I ended up not counting these two grades. If these tests that I had given her had been state tests, her grade would have been terrible and not truly a reflection of her knowledge and ability.) There are too many factors, extraneous to teaching, that are reflected in a student's state test score. More and more teachers are leaving the field because of this.

So why is there a teacher shortage? No money, no respect, inappropriate evaluations and expectations, and the availability of many more options now for women.