Teacher Shortage?

Hyperbole is an important tool in any communicator’s toolbox.  We love to paint dire pictures, stories that require revolutionary change, monumental reforms, and “no choice but …” solutions.  Such storytelling is masterfully done when we talk about teachers in the classroom.  For years now, talks about teacher shortages have resulted in alternative certification policies, pay raises, and serious discussions about pre-service and in-service educator requirements.

Case in point — the following article from West Virginia’s Charleston Daily Mail.  http://www.dailymail.com/story/News/2007042333/Officials-debate-coming-teacher-shortage/
In it, we read about concerns that too many teachers are facing retirement.  Too few new teachers are entering the classroom.  The only solution — our schools need more money to pay teachers.

I’m all for giving effective teachers a great wage for a job well done.  As I’ve said before, there is are few jobs as important, and as difficult, as a classroom teacher.  But continued threats of looming teacher shortages, in an attempt to garner increases in pay, can ultimately have the reverse effect.  You cry wolf too many times, and soon the taxpayers are wondering where all of their money is going, particularly if student test scores remain stagnant.

Let’s be honest.  With all of our past teacher “shortages,” have there ever been instances where a growing number of classrooms were without teachers, long term?  Where eager-faced students looked forward, and found no teacher standing there?  Where kids were hungry for knowledge, but no one was there to feed them?  Of course not.

If there were, that would be an incredibly compelling visual to communicate impending teacher shortages.  Real classrooms without teachers.  Students without mentors.  Schools without leaders.  But that doesn’t happen.  At the end of the day, our schools figure out a solution, ensuring that no child is left without an actual teacher.  It isn’t necessarily easy, but one of the few things we can count on is a teacher in every classroom.

Ultimately, the public debate should focus on a shortage of effective teachers in our schools.  How do we get those teachers who are successful in improving student achievement in front of those classrooms?  How do we equip colleges of education to prepare their prospective teachers for the rigors and expectations of the classroom?  How do we help principals, parents, and community leaders understand the qualities, measures, and commitment embodied in effective teachers?

That is the story worth telling.  Seeking additional funds for teacher pay?  Tell us how increased salaries will be used to ensure that teachers have the skills, tools, and motivation to effective boost student achievement in the classrooms.  That story is one virtually any state or local official can embrace, and one that any right-minded taxpayer would eagerly invest in. 

One thought on “Teacher Shortage?

  1. The reason why past teacher shortages haven’t left classrooms without teachers is because schools can lower standards, use emergency certification and long-term subs, and increase class size. Look at what happened in California when the elementary schools were required to reduce class size — they hired a lot of untrained, ineffective “teachers.”

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