Monday, August 25, 2014

800 pound Gorilla

There is an 800 pound Gorilla in the room. It is big, ugly, and wrecking havoc on our children’s education.  Yes, I’m talking about the 800 or so classrooms with children ready to learn but no teacher available to teach them. Why are we 800 teachers short? - many, many reasons. For some it may be about pay… for others it may be about testing. Climate, culture, autonomy?, valid reasons all around. Large class sizes, unfair accountability measures, evaluations based on factors outside the teacher’s control? - understandable. Russian roulette with educational standards is certainly a reason to seek employment elsewhere. A philosophical difference with principals and superintendents has to be considered a reason to find another profession. Narcissistic students and unreasonable parents or derogatory Facebook comments or politicians who belittle our craft or newspaper articles who blame us for all of society’s ills are all contributing to the growth of the 800 pound Gorilla. If we don’t stop feeding the beast, how big will it be next year?

Let me be blunt: We have some really bad administrators and some really bad teachers who shouldn’t be able to get a job. Yep, call me names if you want, but you know I’m right. We can all think of a teacher or administrator who shouldn’t be a teacher or administrator. Hell, the only reason the really bad educators are able to keep getting hired is because there is no one else out there keeping the bad ones from getting a job. This is embarrassing. Bad teachers are being recycled because schools have no other choice. How awesome would our schools be if there was an applicant pool of 5 qualified candidates for every job! How great would it be for parents to know their child had the best, not the best available? For this dream to become reality teacher pay has to rival other professions.  The best and brightest high school seniors should seek to become educators just like they seek to become engineers, physical therapists, dental hygienists, or advertising/marketing executives.  We should have stringent standards, so only the very best effective teachers keep their job because the job pool is so saturated.  We should have petroleum engineers leave the oil field to become science teachers, not science teachers leave for the oil field.

I personally know 1 outstanding superintendent, 2 principals, and dozens of teachers who left the profession this year. They left for jobs that paid better, or they just retired because they didn’t HAVE to put up with a system which they felt treated them like dung.  None of them left for other states. However, I offered a job to several elementary certified entry year teachers who told me they were taking jobs out of state. Just out of curiosity, I asked and found out almost all of them went to college with OHLAP! I am not aware of any HS seniors who stated they were going to college to become a teacher.  So our problem is multifaceted. We don’t have enough college students choosing education as a career, and we are losing our current allotment of teachers through mass defections to retirement or career change.  Do we really expect the very best and brightest our state has to offer to choose education as a career when many of the graduates have to work 2 jobs to earn a living wage? I was talking to a great young sophomore English teacher from US Grant HS who cleans swimming pools afterschool and on weekends to supplement his income, so he can support his family.

Seriously, I don’t care what anyone else says, teacher shortage is the number 1 problem facing public education today. Oklahoma Education is in crisis mode. 911 has been dialed and 600,000 students are waiting for their call to be answered. If we want to solve this crisis we should be taking a 2 pronged approach: we have to create a working environment worthy of the best and a working salary good enough to rival other professional careers.  Only then will class sizes, accountability measures, derogatory opinion articles, and philosophical differences be reasons for the weakest of us to get out of the profession and not the reason for the best of us.