Posts Tagged ‘Teacher Shortage’

I changed hundreds of lives…CLICK HERE to find out how!

That title, in Internet parlance, is what’s  known as clickbait. Surely you’ve seen examples such as these during your web-browsing adventures…

Here’s the secret to cheap car insurance your state doesn’t want you to know…

17 fun facts you didn’t know about #oklaed bloggers…

This amazing ingredient is the hidden key to permanent weight loss…

I clicked on the last one. The answer is hemlock.

I start today’s post with the clickbait hook because fellow educator Mindy Dennison has challenged those of us in the blogosphere to answer the question, Why Teach? Given that we’re always discussing the teacher shortage and policy conditions that diminish the profession, this is a very hard question to answer. I want to do while sounding neither cliché nor like authentic frontier gibberish.

I also want to turn it into a two part question for administrators, with the second one being, Why Teach Here? We not only need to sell our profession; we also need to sell our own schools and districts. Sure, it’s a little self-serving, but most of us have chosen to teach/work where we are. There have to be good reasons.

Those of you who know me understand that I’m not much into hype. I say what I think. I won’t try to tell you why teaching is better than every other profession in the world. I’ve met people who thought they wanted to teach and found out they were wrong. I’ve also met people who left some other more lucrative career and never looked back.

From 22 years in education, I can pretty much sum up most people’s reason for entering teaching into three categories –

  • Kids
  • Content
  • Convenience

Each of these can be valid reasons, but they don’t equally translate to likelihood for success. I’ll expound a little bit on each:

(Passion for) Kids

The best reason to enter the teaching profession, hands down, is that you are driven to make the lives of children better. You don’t care who or where you teach; you just want a room full of kids. It could be that you were raised by teachers or that you remember a teacher who reached out to you when it seemed as if no one else would. It could be any number of things. On the other hand, what 18, 20, or 22 year-old knows for certain that he/she would love to spend the next 35 years around kids of any age? I didn’t. I learned within the first month that helping students learn and find success in this world is my passion. I just can’t pretend that this was my initial motivation.

(Passion for) Content

I love writing. Have I mentioned that before? I love reading too, but at 17 when I chose English as my major, it was because of my love of writing. I chose teaching because I thought it would be enjoyable to emulate some of my favorite English teachers. I could see myself teaching students, having a similar impact on them to what my teachers had on me. I loved the idea of reading my favorite books with students and discussing what they mean.

Similarly, I know plenty of teachers who are passionate about the various subjects they teach: biology, French, math, music….really anything – including athletics. They feel that part of their job is to help more students find passion in those subjects as well.

This is great to me. Students love it when teachers care about the subject matter. Still, I can’t say that all my students were converts. No teacher can. On my best days, though, I could share my passion with a room full of people who would at least indulge my interests and consider – be it ever so briefly – that what got me riled up might work for them too. They didn’t all enjoy reading Shakespeare, but that doesn’t make the kids bad or strange.  Making Shakespeare more interesting, more fun, and more engaging was my job. And it was an enjoyable challenge.


This reason isn’t as bad as it sounds. I knew a lot of people in college who had picked majors without picking a career. Studying history as an undergraduate student sounds nice. Maybe you thought you’d go to law school with that degree, but you’ve come to find that you really just don’t want to be a lawyer. Meanwhile, your roommate is an education major. You decide to give it a try.

Yes, there are people in our schools who teach because when it came time to convert a line of study into a career, they simply said, sure, I’ll try it. Some who have done this have thrived and now can’t imagine doing anything different. Others, just as some in the first two groups, have entered the profession and quickly left.

The myth that teachers teach to get summers off probably has a root somewhere. Surely that has motivated someone somewhere to teach. That said, most teachers I know work second jobs in the summer or spend as much time as possible taking classes or going to conferences.


Any of these reasons can be good reasons to begin teaching, but there’s only one reason to stick with it: kids. I want more people in this world to have a passion for making the biggest difference they can in the lives of children. I want every teacher to have the seemingly paradoxical attitude of wanting to be the best teacher these kids have ever had while hoping that they have someone even better somewhere down the road. And I want teachers to be honest and reflective enough to say when they just don’t have the drive for it anymore.

I still remember students from my first day in the classroom. If I pulled out the picture of our 8th grade team on the steps of the Oklahoma Capitol, I bet I could even remember many of their names, 22 years later. I don’t know where they are now, what they’ve become, or their year with me has made any difference in their lives. I’ll probably never know that. I can say with certainty, though, that each of those students helped shape me into the teacher that I became, which means that they in turn impacted every student I had after that.

I’m 44 and I became a teacher half my life ago. I still can’t imagine choosing any other career.

Teach because it will mean something to you. For the second part of the question, teach here because…

…well that will have to wait for my next post.

With All Due Respect, Vol. 2

In March, I wrote the first installment of what apparently will turn into a series, based on the rhetorical premise that you can say anything you want – as long as you preface it with the phrase, with all due respect – and you have complete immunity from criticism. Since this verbal construct owes itself to Ricky Bobby, and today is the Talladega 500, I figure it’s time for part two. Besides, if Rob Miller can go back to the well with Really!?! then I can hit the repeat button with this particular phrase.

Today’s source of inspiration comes in the form of a column written for The Journal Record by Oklahoma City University law professor, Andrew C. Spiropoulos. He wants us to know that there really is no teacher shortage:

Give the politicians, lobbyists, and policy wonks that shill for the education establishment extra credit for their success in spreading and milking the myth that we have a teacher shortage in Oklahoma. They could teach a master class on how to deceive with numbers. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, however, they are pulling off this con all over the country.

ricky bobbyThat’s the first paragraph from Spiropoulos, who is also the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. As a man of letters and easily the most effective writer affiliated with OCPA , I expect better. Maybe I shouldn’t.

Let’s break down the language he uses to call educators collectively a bunch of liars.

  • First, he lumps together politicians, lobbyists, and policy wonks. This disreputable group of cretins audaciously influences public discourse, for certain. What is less clear is which of these three groups he considers his people. He’s at least a policy wonk. All the OCPA – a non-profit and allegedly non-partisan organization – does is spew policy talking points. To my knowledge, they’ve never had one that supports public education. When they do discuss schools, it is usually some form of argument about how districts actually get too much. Many of our state’s politicians are closely aligned with OCPA and regularly parrot these talking points. If you’ve heard a state representative ask How much is enough? once, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times.
  • Next he uses the verb shill. This is a word chosen to make the reader cringe at the actions of special interest groups – you know, the people who’ve dedicated their careers to educating children. In my mind, someone who shills is a person with mercenary loyalties. Think of Peyton Manning in…every commercial ever. Just keep humming to the tune of Nationwide is on your side. Here are some examples:
    • I like class size really large.
    • Teachers make too stinking much.
    • Why do buses smell like cheese?
    • OCPA ___ ___ ___! (Treat this one as a Mad Lib)
  • He then completes the sentence with the prepositional phrase for the education establishment. I don’t care if it’s the Oklahoman, any number of OCPA’s fellas, or the third-place finisher in last June’s state superintendent primary saying it, I never tire of hearing that phrase. Who exactly are the dastardly EE? Is it the OEA, PTA, CCOSA, OSSBA, and any number of other organizations representing actual teachers, parents, administrators and school board members? Tell me again why these people are the bad guys. Is it because they spend every school day with Oklahoma’s children and actually care about what becomes of them? No, that’s not it. Yes, these groups each have a lobbying arm and collectively comprise a lobbying force. Did you know that in 2014, Oklahoma officials received nearly $200,000 in gifts from lobbyists? Here’s a snapshot of how that breaks down. For the first half of the year, there were more than $157,000 in lobbying gifts. You can look for yourself, but few of those came from entities you would normally associate with the education establishment.
Lobbying Group Amount
Oklahoma State School Boards Association $649.41
Professional Oklahoma Educators $103.58

That’s it. We always hear that teachers don’t vote very well. Apparently the establishment doesn’t lobby very well either. Nothing from OEA or CCOSA during that time (when the legislature was in session) In comparison, here are the lobbying expenses of a few other groups from the same time period.

Lobbying Group Amount
AARP Oklahoma $678.87
AEP/Public Service Company of Oklahoma $18,548.29
Apex Wind Energy $987.05
AT&T $1,477.62
Beer Distributors of Oklahoma $870.25
BP America $924.07
CMA Strategies $2,117.30
Continental Resources $1,428.37
Farmers Insurance Group $10,709.15
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber $668.08
Huddleston Investments, Inc. $12,367.13
OCPA Impact, Inc. $783.87
OG&E $3,222.80
Poultry Federation of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma $1,208.60
The State Chamber $3,047.00
The George Kaiser Family Foundation $827.20
Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce $1,433.09

Face it. In terms of lobbying, education is being outspent by poultry and beer – not to mention the distinguished OCPA of which Spriopoulos is a distinguished fellow. Throw all the shade you want, but I don’t see the education establishment buying all these breakfasts and dinners for lawmakers.

  • Spiropoulos also gives the unholy lot of us bonus points for our success in spreading and milking the myth about the teacher shortage. In return, I give him bonus points for alliteration. Nicely done, good sir! As for the myth itself, I guess those kindergarten and high school physics jobs really didn’t go unfilled. The empty applicant folders were just a figment of our imaginations…or bad math.
  • He then explains that we deceive with numbers and that we are pulling off this con all over the country. I can’t speak for the entire Rebel Alliance, but our numbers are real. And not use a tired explanation, but this has never happened to us before. We’re not used to having all these positions we can’t fill. As one rural superintendent told me in November, we’re hiring people we wouldn’t even have interviewed ten years ago.

The rest of the column meanders into predictable drivel. Spiropoulos explains that 800 vacancies out of 40,000 positions really isn’t that bad. In the sense that it’s a low percentage, I guess that makes sense. In the sense that we had to combine classes or not offer advanced courses, though, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s one thing for schools and districts to create these conditions intentionally, but that’s not what has happened here. Rather the legislature has created a work environment that people with choices are avoiding. Yes, there are certified teachers choosing other career paths (or not to work at all). In that sense, there’s actually a surplus of teachers. It doesn’t do our students any good if they’re not applying for jobs.

Looking up at the last 1,000 words, I realize I’ve been as guilty of loaded language and selective information as Spiropoulos was before. Let me be more clear, then.

During the current school year, Oklahoma  school districts have hired a record number of teachers on emergency certificates. We have also had a record number of positions go unfilled. Because of the lack of incentives for doing so, fewer teachers than ever are earning advanced degrees. Fewer teachers are completing teacher prep programs at Oklahoma colleges and universities than ever before. A high number of those who are continue to leave the state. Many of those who stay and teach leave the profession quickly because they don’t want their worth (along with their students) to be judged by tests. They don’t want their entire existence reduced to testing. Many teachers retire the instant they can because the profession has changed so much. And teachers haven’t had a  pay raise in seven years.

For more perspective on the Journal Record piece, I also encourage you to read the following bloggers:

For more perspective on the Journal Record piece, I also encourage you to read the following bloggers:Christie Paradise – A Teacher Shortage or Not a Teacher Shortage: That is the Question…Apparently

Tyler Bridges – The Teacher Shortage Is …

Help Wanted: 800 Teachers

August 21, 2014 4 comments

The most important news story this week relative to public schools in Oklahoma is the fact that as children have returned to classes, districts still have over 800 teaching vacancies. This is the count released by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association in a survey of districts this week. According to the Tulsa World, about 70 of those vacancies are in Tulsa Public Schools. According to the Oklahoman, 70 more are in Oklahoma City Public Schools. This is not just an urban schools problem. Across the state, all kinds of districts are struggling to find teachers. The OSSBA survey also found:

  • More than half of districts with vacancies said they have sought emergency certification for teachers who aren’t fully qualified to teach the subject and/or grade level for which they were hired.

  • About half of the districts also said they will use long- or short-term substitute teachers to fill vacancies.

  • Many districts that reported no vacancies said they have hired short- and long-term substitutes in place of full-time teachers.

  • The shortage is hitting districts of all sizes in every area of the state.

  • Special education is the most difficult teaching area to fill, followed by elementary education, high school science and high school math.

  • A handful of districts offer incentives to improve teacher recruitment and retention, but most districts do not, citing financial constraints.

  • Not only are local school officials deeply concerned about the scarcity of applicants, they are worried about the quality of educators who do apply.

This is a problem on many levels. Students deserve good teachers, whether it is at the foundational level, such as in first grade classes, or in specialized upper-level courses, such as chemistry and calculus. No principal wants to hire a teacher just because he was the only applicant. Yet sometimes that happens. The third point in the findings – that special education positions are hardest to fill – has always been true, just never to the magnitude that schools are experiencing this year.

When I posted the story to Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday, one reader had this comment:

Let me get this straight… Not many people want a job where they get to put up with undisciplined youth, unclear standards, and low pay? Plus completely inept leadership at the state and federal level? Hmmm….. One does wonder….

That’s a pretty good summary of what keeps people away, but I’d say the top three reasons go in this order:

  1. Pay
  2. Lack of respect
  3. Working conditions

Every story on the shortage circles back to pay, and that’s a big part of the problem. Oklahoma has not increased the salary scale for teachers since 2006. While districts have added incrementally when they are able to, there is no additional state funding to support this. In fact, state aid to schools is still below 2008 levels. The things that teachers have to buy for themselves and their families, however, are not below 2008 levels.

Teacher salaries in Oklahoma have always been below our neighboring states and most of the nation. When I started teaching, we used to always say, “Thank God for Mississippi!” Fortunately, we still have them, plus an occasional Dakota, to make us look good. Why is this impacting staffing now? In the past, teachers have had more job satisfaction. It’s a big deal to know you’re making a difference in children’s lives. You may be the only adult who is kind in their lives. Or you may be one of many. In any case, you know that you’re needed, and you stick with it – until you can’t.

Over the last 15 years, respect for the profession has eroded, pretty much as the influence of for-profit education has risen. The private sector thinks it can do a better job, and they’ve convinced enough politicians they’re right that they’re getting a turn at the wheel. Politicians (in both parties) bash the teachers unions. The problem I have with that is you can’t bash the union and say you support teachers. Who do you think populates the unions? And are the NEA and AFT so powerful that teachers are making states go broke? Hardly!

We hear all the time about using test scores to evaluate teachers, but in the corporate world, these models are being shelved. Even Microsoft has gone away from this kind of quantitative ranking of employees! Salaries are stagnant, but politicians would rather listen to the Fordham Foundation, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Campbell Brown, and the Waltons talk about education than the teachers doing the job. Yes, pay matters, but respect is important too.

Over time, we’ve also seen schools become a harder place to teach. I should mention that after decades in the profession, I still love students. If you can’t go a day without lamenting that these kids today are different, you probably shouldn’t be a teacher. Yes, they’re different. And no, they’re not. They still want to feel safe and be accepted. They still have hopes and dreams. And just as when we were kids, they still think that the adults are out of touch. They don’t get that we were their age too – which is perfectly fine.

More than ever, though, teachers are burdened with tasks that have nothing to do with instruction. The paperwork demands with justifying their own employment are ridiculous. This has led to more and more veteran teachers taking retirement at the first possible opportunity. It would be different if the policy churn and regulatory climate of public education were meaningful. Instead, schools are increasingly houses of frustration. It’s hard to see the difference you are making when you constantly have to document minutiae. Budgets also impact class size, custodial services, and the availability of instructional resources. These things matter to teachers too.

Ours is a profession that fewer people want to enter. While this disappoints me, I completely understand. Just the same, if I could talk to the 20 year-old me who picked this career path, I would simply say, “go for it.” I still have positive relationships with my former students and their families. I enjoy meeting new teachers and working with veteran educators. I see the difference we make every day, and when we can find committed people who want to impact lives, I still have no problem advising them to enter the teaching profession.

Many of us are fortunate enough to live in communities that support education and help out where the state and federal governments merely interfere. Overall, though, the world will never truly grasp what we do or why we defend it so fiercely. Right now, the state needs about 800 more people who understand.

Teacher Shortage Task Force (Part II)

October 2, 2013 5 comments

Today, Superintendent Barresi will convene the Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force for a second time. The first meeting was held in August. I’d love to see an agenda for this.

** Media Alert **

State Superintendent Janet Barresi Holds Second Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force Meeting

Who: State Superintendent Janet Barresi, common and higher education administrators and teachers as state lawmakers, chamber representatives and other contributors.

What: State Superintendent Janet Barresi will hold the second meeting of the Teacher Shortage Task Force. The focus will be to study current workforce shortage issues across the state as well ways to recruit and retain the best teachers for Oklahoma schools. The group will meet up to two additional times before the end of the year.

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013

Where: State Capitol, 2300 N Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, Room 412 B & C.

Maybe instead of looking at the people who choose not to become educators, we should take some time to focus on the ones who do. This doesn’t mean trotting the teacher of the year finalists out like show ponies at the state fair. This doesn’t mean grandstanding at campaign stops about how your big bad administrators are hoarding money and keeping you from having a $2,000 raise.

It means acknowledging that the people best suited to improve the profession are the ones who have dedicated their academic careers and decades of their lives to it. Studying for four years to become a teacher is more significant than cramming for five weeks to do it. Second to the lie that public education is failing is the myth that teacher preparation is broken. We should also acknowledge that earning a master’s degree should matter more than it does on the salary scale.

It means understanding that a principal is better suited to evaluate teachers than an algorithm developed by statisticians who have never taught a day in their life. Additionally, teachers should never have to deal with the frustration of continuously trying to meet targets that move after the school year ends.

It means funding education properly. When the state has a record amount of revenue to allocate, funding for public education should not remain lower than it was five years ago. And when the legislature puts $74 million of new money into common education, we shouldn’t accept a meager 28 percent of it going into the funding formula (especially when Barresi and the legislature harp about the non-instructional costs of school districts).

It means assessing students in a way that helps us learn what we need to know about them. Get in and get out. Don’t waste so much of our time that would be better spent on instruction. Let us teach.

It means utilizing our input when you invite us to serve on your committees. You should do more than hear us. You should not only acknowledge the words, but wait until the group you’ve convened finishes meeting before deciding what to do. You shouldn’t just call people together when you have your mind made up ahead of time.

It means understanding that the teaching profession is both complicated and simple. On one hand, a teacher has the responsibility to attend to the learning, safety, and emotional well-being of anywhere from a few children to more than a hundred. On the other hand, a teacher shows up, figures out what the kids need, and provides it – no matter what obstacles there are.

Given the support we get from the entities on Lincoln Boulevard in OKC, this state already has more great teachers than it deserves.

About the Teacher Shortage

August 27, 2013 8 comments

Oklahoma has a teacher shortage. That much is fact.

The reasons for it are varied. One, of course is money; Oklahoma has the 47th highest teacher pay in the country. On the other hand, Texas has a teacher shortage. Missouri has a teacher shortage. The whole country has a teacher shortage!

Could there be other reasons?

Yesterday, the SDE convened the Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Taskforce to discuss these issues. Here is the press release:

Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 26, 2013) – Several dozen education leaders convened today for the first meeting of State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force.

Classroom teachers, school administrators, legislators and civic leaders from rural, suburban and urban areas from all across the state met to discuss workforce shortage concerns and determine first action steps in addressing the problem of recruiting and retaining the best teachers in the present economy.

“The most important factor in a child’s education is having a highly effective teacher in the classroom,” said State Superintendent Janet Barresi, “and yet we are facing a critical shortage of classroom teachers in our state. I convened this task force to study the issues and to come up with solutions so that we can improve the outcomes of students.”

The task force meeting came after a weekend call by Barresi for a pay raise of $2,000 for state teachers. She said the salary increase could be paid from school carryover accounts and by repurposing district discretionary funds.

Task force members broke into groups to discuss current workforce shortage issues across the state, to find common themes and hypothesize about the root cause of the concerns. Each group was then asked to share their findings.

Teacher salaries, strong competition with the private sector and border state competition for higher-paying jobs were mentioned as the biggest factors districts face in recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. Lesser factors were divorce rates forcing single parent teachers to find better-paying jobs and isolation that sometimes exists in rural areas where the teacher shortage is more acutely felt.

Several of the teachers on the task force mentioned items such as too stringent certification requirements for those coming to the state with out-of-state certificates or for those seeking specialty certification such as for world languages.

State Department of Education Chief of Staff Joel Robison presented the Oklahoma teacher salary schedule in contrast to surrounding states and the nation. His report showed that the average teacher salary in the state, $44,343, ranks 47th in the nation, while starting teacher salaries, $31,600, rank 41st. Teacher salaries have not been raised for the past five years.

A comparison of surrounding states shows:

  • Texas pays starting teachers $34,234 and an average salary of $48,638.
  • Arkansas pays starting teachers $32,478 and an average salary of $46,500.
  • Kansas pays starting teachers $32,964 and an average salary of $46,598.
  • New Mexico pays starting teachers $32,092 and an average salary of $46,888.

Dr. Kerri White, Assistant State Superintendent of Educator Effectiveness, presented the group with information from “The Irreplaceables,” a report from The New Teacher Project.

White said the report is based on the premise that there are some excellent educators who are almost impossible to replace. The research delves into how school leaders can recognize and retain them.

White said administrative support of teachers is important, as is the chance for teachers to advance into leadership roles among their peers.

“When great teachers feel they are not making an impact, they don’t stay,” White said.

The New Teacher Project is a group founded by controversial public school reformer Michelle Rhee. Diane Ravitch ripped this report apart last August:

Here is the tip-off to their self-interest: “In fact, in these districts, 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years of experience are less effective at advancing academic progress than the average first-year teacher.” Imagine that! The average first-year teachers (that is, the ones you can get if you work with TNTP) are far more effective that 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years experience! You can see where this is leading: experience is irrelevant because those great first-year teachers are better than 40 percent of the veterans. Why not ditch tenure and seniority and get rid of 40 percent of anyone who has taught for more than seven years? Unfortunately, the report laments, those ineffective experienced teachers were making more money than the average first-year teacher, which struck TNTP as blatantly unfair!

Ask yourself this question: Is teaching a respected career in this country?

I would argue that it used to be. I would also argue that it’s a little too little (and a little too late) for Barresi to pretend to be on the side of educators. We haven’t forgotten about when she blamed liberal teachers for the outrage over the Common Core . Or when she said schools were responsible for technology failures. Or when she accidentally hit the Reply to All button and insulted several districts.

Teachers (and administrators) catch the blame for not just every school outcome, but the inputs as well. The perpetuated myth that public education is in ruins deters people from entering the profession as much as the salary limitations. Replacing veterans with first-year teachers won’t fix that. Neither will pandering in an election cycle.

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