I'll begin with saying this: some people (including some educators) are looking at the issue of teacher shortage in the wrong context and it may be hurting our movement. Recent critics are looking at the issue in so simplistic a manner that it severely detracts from a movement to solve a real issue. People within positions of influence that realize this is a real issue are being distracted by such superficial debate.
We live in a world in which 15-second sound bytes are King, and this is seen most-often from the organizations and cynics throughout our state and country that will ignore an incredible story to sensationalize a smearing one. All of these are in efforts to further pursue their agenda of privatization, school choice, statistically invalid school report cards, punishing schools and teachers, etc.... It is a sad, but evident truth within our society today. All we can do to that point is to simply continue to shout our greatest accomplishments and stories to the rooftops of our state. I truly believe that #oklaed has helped to stem some of the changing tide within our state and I applaud you all for that. However, we cannot let up.
Now, we all know that one of the biggest issues facing education in Oklahoma today is teacher shortage and we have all discussed the various things that we feel will "solve" this issue outright. One of the fundamental, and most disagreed upon notions is that it is ALL about teacher pay. It is not, however it is close. Teacher pay is merely one of the many aspects of our educational structure that we must address thoroughly and honestly in order to begin to rectify our issues of finding highly qualified and effective teachers to place in every classroom in Oklahoma. I will address some real strategies in Part 2 of this series on teacher shortage.
In Oklahoma, and nationwide for that matter, shortage is actually lesser of a problem than retention. Retention is really the major issue. We have unfortunately reached what I would consider to be a 'tipping point' in Oklahoma. We are at a point in time in which we have a huge retention issue that is now, more than ever, coupled with a recruitment issue as well. Education has long had a turnover rate that is staggering (upwards of 40% in the first 5 years according to some studies), but we have always had the pipeline to continue to fill those vacancies. Even though we have always had the certificates to fill the positions, studies also overwhelmingly show that more and better results are garnered from teachers with veteran status, and common sense would tell us so as well. Oklahoma is now entering a time however, that teachers are leaving and not enough are filing in behind them. I believe that is the true definition of what a teacher shortage is, but I guess I could be wrong. But I'm not.
Essentially, we have compensated so poorly for so long now that we have created a class of professionals that are avoided by many of our best and brightest. Don't twist my words on this one. In no way are we not getting quality candidates, we simply are not getting enough. We see an atmosphere of distrust and disdain, coupled with poor and uncompetitive professional pay, and this has created an environment teaming with vacancies. This is a serious issue that must be resolved through various avenues related to recruitment AND retention.
However, to simply say we don't have enough teachers because there are a small percentage of all jobs resulting in unfilled positions is boiling the teacher shortage issue so far down that it becomes irrelevant. We find that simplistic argument from that above mentioned article published on the topic. The better questions to ask when properly and fully examining the teacher shortage issue are the following:
- How many class sizes do we have with 30+ students?
- How many emergency certifications have been granted in Oklahoma in the last 3 years?
- How many 'co-teachers' do we have listed in Oklahoma?
- How many jobs were never there to even be filled because candidates couldn't be found at all?
- How many classes are not offered statewide due to the fact that a teacher cannot be found?
- How many student teachers do we have that were forced to be full-time teachers due to vacancies?
- How many teachers have left due to higher pay or better opportunities in other states?
- How many adjunct teachers do we have on record?
- What about Teach for America?
- Long-term substitutes?
When you examine the full scope of the real issue, as opposed to skimming the surface, you see how it is much more mufti-faceted than what is presented by some. The problem is much more than saying we have 40,000 teachers and "only" 800 vacancies. That is the easy and misleading way out. Remember when I referenced those 15-second sound bytes? Yeah, that would be a prime example.
The problem is solved only by systematically improving various aspects of the profession, from beginning to end. It will not be solved by raising teacher pay alone, as we are in need of more structures to be thoughtfully placed in order to change the course of our academia. Now that the air has been cleared on what teacher shortage actually means to those within the profession, we can move on to strategies to fix it.
Those will be the ideas addressed in Part 2. Stay tuned.