Published in the Orange County Register:
A hilarious bit from comedians Key & Peele portrays the duo hosting a fictitious show titled "TeachingCenter," a sendup of ESPN’s "SportsCenter," highlighting the exploits of teachers instead of athletes.
The lead story is about an instructor in Ohio who takes her talents to New York after signing an $80 million contract. A segment later in the skit shows a teacher deftly engaging an introverted student, building his confidence.
If only we lived in a world where teachers were held in such high regard as professional athletes. Instead, the U.S. is suffering from a teacher shortage, particularly in math, science, special education and bilingual instruction.
This year alone, California districts need to fill 21,500 slots, but the state is issuing fewer than 15,000 new credentials a year.
While a recovering economy with more employment options is part of the picture, the major reason for a shortage of well-trained, qualified teachers is clear: Teaching has become a maligned occupation. A concerted campaign by so-called public education reformers is hell-bent on privatizing public education, essentially making profit generators out of our youth. What these millionaires have not been able to do through the ballot box, they are trying to accomplish through the courts and the media: weaken teacher rights and make public education a market enterprise relying on test scores above all else. This is the motivation behind headline-grabbing lawsuits seeking to undermine teachers and education unions.
I can’t blame recent college graduates for thinking twice about signing up with the teaching profession. With the demonizing of educators and the assault from the reformers on job protections and other rights, it would take an iron character to face these psychological barriers on top of the rigors of learning the job.
Then there’s economics. The starting salary for a California teacher is around $41,000. Compare that with average national starting salaries of graduates in fields such as computer science ($52,000) and electrical engineering ($57,000), and you can see the challenges the profession faces in attracting talent.
Teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs out there. I can attest to that from more than 20 years in the classroom. Few professions can compete with the long-lasting, positive impact a teacher can make. Unfortunately, teaching can’t compete in practical ways. Between the constant political bombardment and modest pay, it’s no wonder that folks avoid the profession.
It’s not as if we’re not going to need teachers, so what’s the answer?
First, elected officials must voice their support for teachers and public education, and create mechanisms to attract new people into the profession.
Second, the media need to examine the motives behind the education “reformers” in their quest to privatize public education and demonize teachers and their unions, and report on the impact of these attacks.
And third, we need to better fund our public education system. I’m talking about reducing class size, supporting the arts and offering a holistic approach to education that includes more librarians, school nurses and on-site mental health professionals. Schools should be welcoming, not falling apart. Classrooms should be bastions of learning, not bursting at the seams. And yes, we should pay teachers more, especially starting out, but also support a serious commitment to professional development along the way.
The promise of making a difference in a young person’s life may be enough to appeal to some, but paying off student loans, purchasing a home and supporting a family speaks louder. Teaching should be a respected, high-paying profession. But until Key & Peele are appointed co-secretaries of education, we will likely continue to face a shortage.
Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers.