According to The Washington Post, our teacher shortage has grown 35% in the 37 states they monitor to over 49,000 vacancies. For example, Arizona has 2,890 openings, more than 1,000 from the previous year. West Virginia was missing 1,500 teachers, which is a 50% increase from the previous year. So, what is causing this shortage in such an honorable profession? Exit interviews list reasons such as low pay, poor working conditions, and supervision, lack of support from the community, lack of autonomy, changing curriculum, and rising school violence.
Why do teachers become teachers in the first place? Like many of us in other professions who have a passion for their work, teachers do have an innate passion for sharing knowledge. They are driven to make a difference in the lives of their students. Their passion is fueled by the commitment to educating the newest Americans. They are the ones who can have the most impact on shaping the next generation, and the values they instill in their students will ripple through generations. They are creating responsible and informed citizens who can contribute positively to society.
Talk about one of the oldest professions, the first schools began around 3000 B.C.E. in ancient Egypt, where priests taught boys to read and write. They also were tutored in the humanities and math. Around this same time, priests in Mesopotamia (Iraq), taught reading, and writing, along with astrology and medicine.
The history of education in America begins in 1632 in Massachusetts, where the Boston Latin School opened to serve boys. Massachusetts became the first colony to pass a law regarding education which stated any town with 50 or more families must hire a teacher who could teach children to read and write. Our third President, Thomas Jefferson, believed education was essential to create responsible citizens. He wanted primary grade instruction for both girls and boys and then wanted them to go to secondary schools and even universities. Because Jefferson believed education was necessary to preserve democratic rights, he established the University of Virginia in 1819. His quote is “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government”.
We have come a long way from the one-room schoolhouses and the curriculum taught when our country was founded. Today there are 3.8 million full-time teachers in public schools and 0.5 million in private schools. 75% are women and 68.8% are white, according to 240Tutoring. 51% of teachers have a master’s degree and the average age of a teacher today is 42.
We all know that teaching is much more than spelling tests, geography quizzes, and learning formulas. Students are influenced by teachers for their broader guidance and ability to improve a kid’s confidence during this formative time of their lives. 83% of students say a teacher had boosted their confidence and self-esteem.
How do we begin to address our shortage of teachers, which affects our latest generation and the future of our great country? Obviously paying teachers enough where they can concentrate on their lessons and not have to worry about their car payment in order to get to school would be a first step. Leadership in the schools needs to take an active role in disciplining kids who misbehave by showing teachers that they do have their backs. We, as a society, must recognize that teachers are true professionals, always looking to improve their craft. Professionals want to be part of the conversation that affects their performance and need to have a say in school policy and what takes place in their classrooms. Our community must show teachers we appreciate them molding our children. Their public service certainly deserves the rest of us taking the time to say, “Thank you for your service”, like we say to other professionals in the armed services, police force, or our firefighters.
Teaching has rewards that do attract a dedicated workforce. These professionals model effective communication, empathy, and sharing positivity and respect for others. Teachers set a good example for students to follow. There can be nothing that beats the moment when a student, who has been struggling with a concept, “gets” it. The sight of their joy when it “clicks” for them and they truly celebrate their accomplishment, is one of the greatest rewards in teaching, as it is one of the greatest rewards in being a parent or grandparent.
Teachers teach for a multitude of reasons, driven by their passion, sense of purpose, and the desire to create a better future for us all. Their dedication, resilience, and unwavering commitment to education make them the unsung heroes of our society. We need to do everything we can to support these underappreciated professionals. Ask yourself, what did you do today to help make this newest generation of kids better than we ever were? Our teachers are the front line of defense in keeping this country great.