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Copy of Paying Attention 2.0

Posting this article has been delayed due to an annoying little intrusion called COVID 19.

In my last post, I identified two disturbing trends (probably two of many) that our systems of public education should be paying attention to but, seemingly, chose to diminish or gloss over. In this post, I will amplify the crisis of one of these issues, deferring the second concern to a subsequent article. Both are significant. Each is deserving of careful examination and consideration.

The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Bite one.

We have a teacher crisis in our systems. As I indicated in my last post, this is not just a little inconvenience or a temporary challenge. It’s a big deal. “With an increase of nearly 3 million students projected over the next 10 years and enrollment in teacher education programs dropping 35 percent from 2009 to 2014, many school districts across the country are struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified educators, particularly at the secondary level. Over the past two years, enrollment has continued to decline in teacher education programs. The U.S. Department of Education estimates the need for another 1.6 million teachers across the United States over a 10-year span that began in 2012.” (NASSP 2020) As the city of Houston, Texas prepared to open their doors to children, it found itself 1,000 teachers short. Similarly, the state of Kansas had 1,400 unfilled positions, Maryland with 5,500 and Florida is left with nearly 8,000 vacancies.

There are reasons for this, real reasons that extend beyond the anticipated excuses. Teacher compensation is not the pivotal issue. The NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) addressed this issue in an article in their Principal Leadership issue, January 2020, titled “How School Leadership Affects Teacher Retention.”

January 2020. Note the date. This is pre-pandemic, so let’s not be too quick to blame long-standing concerns on recent circumstances. The history of this dilemma has long tentacles.

Get ready for the tough truth. In the United States, 8 percent of teachers leave the profession annually, and more than 50 percent quit teaching before reaching retirement. Pause to consider the considerable economic sacrifice and professional commitment that leads someone to a career in education, with over half of them leaving prior to retirement eligibility.

Also consider the significant cost to education systems when substantial numbers of their work force elect to abandon their aspirations and move in a different direction.

Is any of this sustainable? That’s the question that must be addressed along with one more.

Why? Why in the world is this our current reality?

In her article “Why Do Teachers Quit?” Liz Riggs revealed that for those who are enrolled in teacher education programs, 40 percent of those potential educators never even enter the profession. According to Sally Weale in her article “Four in 10 New Teachers Quit Within a Year (2015),” “prospective teachers who originally entered into teacher education programs decided against entering the profession at a rate three times what it was just six years ago, opting instead for a different career.” To compound the issue of teacher shortages, “nearly half of new teachers leave the classroom in their first five years, including 9.5 percent in the first year alone. Nearly a third of those leaving their positions chose to leave the profession altogether, opting for careers outside of education.”

What is going on?

“Teachers exiting the profession cite a lack of administrative support as one of the top five reasons for teacher attrition. Teachers’ perceptions of their principals’ effectiveness can influence a school district’s ability to retain their teaching staff. This is particularly evident in high-poverty schools.” (NASSP 2020)

I spent eighteen years of my professional life as a building principal. I think I did a good job supporting my teachers and their efforts. I believe I was effective in supporting a culture of social inclusiveness and academic achievement. I truly aspired to assure a safe environment for folks to work and learn in.

Did I? That must be the point of reflection for anyone in a public education leadership role.

Am I? Did I? Will I?

Let’s accept this as a fact; one that will be explored in depth in future posts. But, for now suffice it to say, “a lack of administrative support is one of the top five reasons for teacher attrition.”

There are other reasons for this exodus. Quoting myself from previous articles: Teachers are not considering a career change simply because of pay structures. They knew education was not a pathway to riches when they signed on. Nor do these decisions appear to be about a change, or lack thereof, in their continued belief that they could have a positive impact on the lives of kids and prepare them for successful futures. No, the cause for this exodus, the polls reveal, has most to do with working conditions, with operating in a standardized testing environment, and with a perceived lack of support and not being treated as professionals.

The cause for this exodus, the polls reveal, has most to do with working conditions, with operating in a standardized testing environment, and with a perceived lack of support and not being treated as professionals.

So . . . where are we? We are facing an increase of student enrollment into our public education system that is occurring on a parallel with an overwhelming pattern of exodus by teachers out of the system. Is this sustainable?

Of course not. If we’re paying attention, we’ll do a deep dive into the underlying reasons for this disturbing disconnect and take deliberate and pro-active steps to correct it.

The answer will not be found in the comfort of “how can we tweak the status quo to be more attractive to our teachers?”

The answer, the true and difficult answer, will, and must, reside in the acknowledgement of the following:

· Our current system is no longer relevant to the lives it is designed to serve.

· Our present current system is out of touch with the realities of our contemporary society.

· We must rethink what we do instructionally, and why we do it.

· One size does not fit all. One size does not fit all. (Redundancy intended.)

· True achievement resides in an individualized approach to learning, not a standardized one.

· Teachers must enjoy the renewed authority and autonomy to serve their students, not just the resulting test scores.

· Teachers must be encouraged, and celebrated, for capitalizing on student curiosity and creativity as a driving component of their instructional decisions.

Anything less will continue to erode the viability of the teaching profession and will further deny America’s children of the education kids deserve.

Neither of these are something our nation’s future can tolerate.

Knock, knock . . . are we paying attention?


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