My child has had a number of long-term substitutes in his classes because they can’t find a certified teacher to fill the position. From my perspective as a parent, I don’t think they will be able to keep teachers in the classroom until they increase their pay. The job is just too strenuous.
Your perspective as a parent is clear and most appreciated. However, the perspective from teachers is a bit more muddied.
Increasing teacher pay − while definitely needed − will not likely result in dramatically alleviating the shortage of teachers in education by itself. It will take more than that and any legislator who thinks money alone can solve this problem is whistling past the graveyard.
The issue is that money is not usually directly related to job satisfaction. Not in teaching, not in anything. It takes more than monetary compensation to want to dedicate your life to a challenging job: it usually takes a blend of innate passion, support for your effort and a professional environment.
As an example, let’s look at doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that by 2030, there will be a shortage of physicians as high as 121,000. A big part of this is doctors exiting the profession before retirement and a big factor in the exodus is job satisfaction. Many say that the bureaucracy is overwhelming. They claim that, with the rise of large group practices, they feel like replaceable cogs in a machine. This is despite the fact that the annual physician’s salary is almost $200,000.
As a more direct example, take a state like California. It has one of the highest annual teacher salaries in the country − third highest, in fact. The average California teacher salary is almost $18,000 more than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet 80% of California school districts report a teacher shortage and more teachers are leaving the classroom every year. Financially, they’ve tried everything from higher salaries to student loan forgiveness to housing subsidies.
What they haven’t seemed to try as much is supporting teachers’ educational decisions or strengthening discipline in the classroom. As I recently wrote about, the California senate has passed a bill banning student suspensions and expulsions for willful defiance or disrupting school. Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, says a big part of the solution is, “You treat people with respect, give them a voice, and treat them like professionals.”
This is exactly what is not happening. Teachers across the nation feel more unsupported than ever. They are given less control to sustain a thriving learning environment in their classrooms. They, like all of those unsatisfied physicians, are overburdened by bureaucracy and feel like meaningless cogs in a system wherein every ridiculous thing receives attention and money except them and the actual problems.
Psychologically, money you make and fulfillment in your job are discrete forces. More money may permit you to have a higher tolerance for a job you hate, but it won’t make you love it any more. Let’s say someone paid you $500,000 annually to screw on caps in an assembly line at a toothpaste factory. Would all that money make it any less tedious to stand there and twist caps all day, every day, watching the sands in the hourglass slip through your fingers? You might be persuaded to endure it, but it couldn’t make you embrace the task with anything like zeal. To put it another way, imagine the nastiest, most disgusting fast food restaurant you can think of. Would getting your meal for half price induce you to want to eat there on a regular basis? Yes, it might make it more tolerable to force feed yourself a burger that repulses you, but it won’t make you enjoy the experience.
Teaching is no different. More money would indeed increase teachers’ ability to endure out-of-control students, useless paperwork, unwieldy class sizes, technological breakdowns, apathetic students, unsupportive parents and incompetent administrators. It might induce a teacher to tolerate being cursed out by students, being forced to use ineffective teaching methods, having to hold your pee for two hours, being constantly told what you’re doing is wrong by “coaches” and administrators who often failed in their own classroom stints, being made to overload students on meaningless standardized tests and having to suffer the monstrous behavior of undisciplined students who can’t be given any consequences. This is why a national report by the Learning Policy Institute found that teachers most often leave the profession because of dissatisfaction with working conditions. It’s not the money. It’s the mayhem. In short, throwing more money at teachers without actually dealing with the problems that are causing them to leave in the first place is like putting an extra lock on the cage of a wild animal. It might be able to keep him inside a little longer, but it won’t stop him from longing for the day when he finally breaks free.