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Seriously, You Wonder Why There’s a Shortage?

In 1975, after graduating from the State University at Fredonia with a degree in elementary education, I, along with many education graduates, had to face the slim odds of getting a teaching job in an overly saturated market.

Like many others hungry for one of few jobs available, and interested in showing what we could do in classrooms, I, and they, filled out substitute teaching applications in numerous districts covering all Chautauqua County’s, and parts of Cattaraugus County’s, public and parochial schools, to “audition” in case future openings came up in our subjects/certification areas.

As substitutes, many of us took assignments in any/every school, grade, subject, level, etc., that came our way. We wanted to show our classroom skills while filling in for absent teachers. I subbed in all grades from kindergarten through 12 grades. I accepted any subject they asked me to take, from core subjects to special areas including PE, art, home economics, library, music, band, mechanical drawing, even driver’s ed (though I couldn’t take students driving, which was a bummer). I did this every school day for two years, missing none, in nearly 50 classrooms from Jamestown to Silver Creek to Randolph, until a one semester maternity leave job was offered to me, which changed to a full-year opportunity (where again, I never missed a day, as I got no sick days), resulting in my being offered a full-time classroom position the following year. Because I worked an entire year, they later lifted the Long-Term Substitute distinction, and counted that as my first official year of service in the JPS.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So, September 1977 began my 31-year JPS career, as I accepted a contract paying me just under $9,000.00 as my starting salary. That didn’t seem a lot, but with about 200 applicants for each availability across both counties, if you were offered a job in education back then, you took it, or someone else would be waiting to grab it up if they got the chance.

Times were different then. We made do, but not without having to find a second job. After getting married in 1980, Sally also had to work, sometimes two jobs as well. If you check salaries and cost of living then, and compare them to today’s teacher starting salary and cost-of-living, the ratios are comparable. It’s not hard to figure this might be one reason many are leaving education to take jobs that pay better salaries, but that isn’t the only reason.

In a huge turnaround, we’ve gone from a surplus of excellent teachers to a shortage of educators as this school year begins. Other things possibly contributing to this teacher exodus might include:

¯ Respect – There are some who think anyone can teach. Florida has lowered its qualifications and pretty much has said anyone can walk into a classroom and be a teacher. That’s a total lack of respect for what teachers have to do to become, and be, teachers. (Won’t discuss the ideas floating in Minnesota regarding the hiring of teachers, nor the assistant principal in Connecticut who came out basically saying he won’t hire teachers who are Catholic.)

Teachers take extra classes, most at their expense. They attend training sessions, most after school hours, at no/little compensation. They spend weekends planning daily/weekly lessons, creating different ways to evaluate instruction and learning, correct papers/reports/projects, and keep up with online gradebooks. There are workshops to attend, parent/teacher conferences, committee, grade level, and department meetings to attend, again at with no compensation for all these “extras.”

Another aspect of respect involves behavior and conduct of students which has deteriorated considerably since my early “Leave it to Beaver” days in the classroom. The same could be said regarding the support, or lack of it, teachers receive from some parents, even the media. We can add times parents want teachers to be teachers to their kids, then tell teachers how to do it. Do people go in for surgery and tell the doctor how to do it?

¯ Expectations — Standards have lowered, as have the bars to reach excellence, other possible reasons for frustrations felt by today’s teachers.

¯ Safety — We’ve seen what’s happened in schools since Columbine in 1999, which has multiplied to 14 mass (more than four victims) shootings in schools. A number of teachers gave their lives trying to protect students in these senseless acts of violence. This, along with the severity and sadness of the loss of life of many children resulting from these violent acts, and suggestions that teachers become registered to carry firearms in schools, is a lot to process for many in the profession.

Another safety issue was/is COVID-19, and the dangers all school staff members faced/face with regard to coming in contact with this epidemic.

¯ Compassion/Instant Gratification – There were times teachers could pat kids on the back, or give side hugs when they came in after finding out parents might be divorcing, someone passed away, gave birth, or they achieved something, whatever. Teachers today see kids in pain/feeling pride, but can’t give them instant compassion/gratification, because someone could twist that teacher’s actions into something vulgar.

These are just some reasons why our nation is facing an educator shortage. Kudos to those who still walk through their classroom doors daily, and “you’ll be sadly missed” to those of you who’ve understandably decided it’s time to make changes for yourselves.

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