Teachers are always there to help, but now we’re the ones who need a boost

The teacher shortage is real and it exists for many reasons. The question is why do we lose so many young educators? What causes them to not enter teaching? Why do many leave their chosen field after just a few years? And how can we make teaching as financially rewarding as other fields when the reality is many localities do not have the funds to raise salaries?

Many colleges and universities now require educators to have a Bachelor’s degree prior to entering an education program. After getting a Bachelor’s degree future teachers have one more year to get teaching credentials or in many cases they can spend two more years getting a Master’s degree.

In other words: teachers face the unenviable choice of incurring greater debt prior to entering the workforce or changing majors and entering the workforce after only four years with less debt but also less credentials. This is a significant problem since students average $30,000 in college debt. Some of my colleagues owe something closer to $60,000 in debt. It is the passion, the call of teaching, the desire to make a difference that leads people into education not the paychecks.

When you consider teacher’s salaries you have to ponder how someone with this much debt can afford to take a starting position with the national average starting salary less than $40,000 in 2017! Why would anyone become a teacher?

It is not surprising that education programs are now considering changing course in Virginia to make education once again a four-year degree program. If we want the best people in education we need to make it affordable to get a degree. We also need to consider the portability of that degree. Some states work with surrounding states for reciprocity of licensure, however; a teacher usually has to take additional courses if he/she relocates too far away. This presents yet another drawback.

Many teachers who enter the field quickly leave. The number of teachers leaving the field with less than five years of experience keeps growing. Why? Everyone has their own reasons but some of the reasons cut across schools, school divisions, states, and our nation. Teachers do not feel supported and the role and responsibilities of teachers just keep increasing. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s my teachers taught us, supported us, disciplined us, attended a few meetings and our testing was a nationally normed standardized test that was given a few times throughout my K-12 education.

Today, teachers teach, discipline, support, remediate, attend countless trainings, prepare students for dozens of evaluations at the local and state level and are told to do more with less. This mantra grew louder during the recession and continues today. During the recession our responsibilities and accountability grew while our support and financial assistance shrunk. It is time that those making laws and regulations that impact educators and students start having conversations with those teachers and students.

This is starting to happen in a few places, but it needs to happen across the nation at the local, state, and federal level. It is amazing that people who have never set foot in a public school are setting policy and regulations that impact our day-to-day practice with no knowledge of the impact and no dollars provided. Our new educators need innovative and effective mentoring programs, meaningful professional development, supports to help them grow into great teachers all of which require funding. When they feel supported, they will stay.

Many localities across the country will never be able to offer competitive salaries compared to places a short drive away due to how schools are funded in some states. I have colleagues in Virginia with over 20 years of experience still making less than $50,000. We need to find a way to show educators that they make a difference and acknowledge their skills and trainings.

Until that happens we need to find other ways to compensate educators. Our school divisions need to get creative. Some are starting to offer one type of leave and teachers do not have to worry about sick or personal days. Others are making professional development more meaningful by letting individual teachers determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective. Some are making mentoring programs more effective so our young teachers feel supported and stay in the field of teaching. Still others provide work from home days instead of requiring teachers to make an appearance on a teacher work day. There is still more that could be done.

To teach is to uplift lives, but it is the teachers and public school employees who need a boost. It is the field of education that needs support. Public education should be something we all believe in, support, and want funded.