It appears to be dawning on education leaders in New York that enrollment in teacher education programs is way down and that New York, like other states, is facing a teacher shortage. I suspect that if current conditions for teachers persist, this emerging problem will become critical sooner rather than later. Ironically, the ludicrous goal of a great teacher in front of every classroom may lead to no teachers in front some.
The so-called reform movement has for years flooded every media outlet with the false notion that America’s schools are failing. Bankrolled by America’s corporate elite, huge sums of money have been spent to create the illusion that failing public schools place the economic future of our nation in jeopardy, threatening our children with being the first generation of Americans to do less well economically than their parents. Why would young people raised in an anti-public school environment in which teachers are depicted as incompetent, uncaring feeders at the public trough want to undertake substantial financial indebtedness to go to college to prepare to work for a failing institution?
Probably as importantly, the current corps of teachers is probably having a negative effect on ed-school recruitment. The teachers I engage daily are disheartened by the constant barrage of public criticism of their efforts. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a call from a member reporting some outrageous posting on Facebook alleging some shortcoming of the work they do. If they have gotten salary raises in recent years, they have been miniscule, their stagnating wages helping to shape their attitude toward their work. Added to that are their perceptions that there work is increasingly cheapened by an imposed mindless routinizing of their teaching, giving them less and less control of their work. I’ve had numerous conversations with teachers who tell me that they discourage their students and their own children from seeking careers in education, albeit they are clearly discomforted to have been put in the position of denigrating their own work.
The writer William Faulkner worked briefly for the Post Office in his youth. He resigned shortly after taking the job, his resignation letter saying, as I recall, “I refuse to be at the beck and call of ever son-of-a-bitch with the price of a two cent stamp.” Today, everyone knows how to teach and what to teach better than our teachers do. That fewer young people aspire to be teachers in light of current conditions, I take as a sign of their intelligence and an indicator of the high quality education they have received.