Guest writer: Jonathan Parker, Glendale, AZ
high school history teacher
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For some time, a national teacher shortage has been discussed as if it is some future emergency or impending event. Well, it is here.
In Arizona, we have witnessed the harvest of years of intentional, legislative neglect. We now have combined classes with student numbers that are way too large to ensure that educators can provide the one-on-one care students need and deserve. Substitute teachers are filling hundreds of classroom slots in places where our students desperately need stability and a caring, qualified educator to learn and grow.
What’s happening in Arizona is taking place in other parts of the country as well, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and California, suggesting a broader, national epidemic. Factors contributing to shortages nationwide include: anti-teacher policies that force good, talented people out of the profession; inadequate funding, which can lead to a wide variety of ills including everything from larger class sizes to fewer resources; as well as a lack of respect and appreciation of teachers, the men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving our children.
And yes, part of the problem is also that educators are not adequately compensated. Politicians cannot continue to put faith in the belief that educators will serve because teaching is a calling. Good teachers are leaving—yes, LEAVING. They cannot pay the mortgage. They cannot insure their families. They cannot pay off their loans. They cannot make ends meet. We are chasing talented men and women, with a heart to teach, away from our public schools.
I have seen promising young teachers tearfully depart, not because they wanted to leave, but because they couldn’t afford to stay.
For talented veteran teachers who remain passionate about the mission of seeing all students succeed regardless of their zip code, the stability of their retirement system has helped offset the temptations of the private sector. But over the last decade, all across the nation, we have witnessed misguided politicians attack and undermine the retirement security of millions of dedicated public servants, including educators, all in the name of providing bigger tax breaks to the wealthy.
Watching television news or reading a local newspaper leads one to believe that many of the presidential candidates are oblivious to what I see as a growing crisis. As they work the campaign trail, and our children prepare to begin a new school year, there are some key questions that need to be addressed to ensure that classrooms across America are equipped with the talented professionals public education requires.
What have we done to entice quality people to the profession?
What have we done to retain our most promising educators?
What will be done to boost the profession?
These are not abstract questions for debate, but problems that require an immediate remedy. And no, it’s not about punching educators in the face or taking away the teacher’s lounge, as some presidential candidates have suggested.
Instead, we must help elevate the debate by demanding real solutions to problems plaguing our public schools, like the current teacher shortage. How do we do that? Talk about these issues with your family, neighbors, colleagues, and those in your communities. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers. Watch the presidential debates. Keep up to date on the candidates’ education platforms so you can serve as a credible messenger in your community about what’s best for students and public schools.
Addressing the teaching shortage begins with affording the professionals responsible for the care of our children the respect and compensation equal to the nobility and importance of their charge. To ignore this problem and its magnitude, and remain complicit in generational neglect, will only result in our children being shortchanged of the promising futures they deserve.