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Completely Predictable Crisis
Policymakers ignored a decade of warnings, now there's no one to teach
Emily West from Nashville’s NewsChannel5 reports that a teacher shortage crisis is hitting Middle Tennessee counties hard.
A NewsChannel 5 analysis shows more than 1,000 teacher openings during the first week of July. During the 2021-2022 school year, the state had 1,024 unfilled vacancies, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Education. From that same school year, the state issued 1,354 permits, which give a person an emergency credential to teach in the classroom without any teaching license.
This comes as no surprise to the education advocates who have been warning about the potential for just such a crisis for a decade or more.
A story from Tennessee Education Report back in 2014 noted:
But the report points to a more pressing problem: A teacher shortage. Specifically, the report states:
Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.
So, we face a teacher shortage in key areas at the same time we are 40th in both average teacher pay and in improvement in salaries over time.
I’ve written before about how the teacher shortage is a national issue. A lack of respect for the profession and lagging pay means people don’t want to go into the profession or they find it untenable to stay.
In the NewsChannel5 piece, starting teacher salaries in some Nashville-area districts are mentioned - they all hover in the low $40,000 range.
First, I’d note that these salaries - to start - should be at $60,000 a year or more given what teachers are asked to do.
Second, I’d point to something important Nashville education blogger TC Weber said about pay:
Most of the focus for attrition has been placed on salaries, and while wages have been chronically low for all too long, it ain’t all about money. Look at it this way, if I’m paying you $100 dollars a day to repeatedly beat you with a baseball bat, you are going to tire of it quickly. So then when you are about ready to quit, I raise the rate to $1000. You look at the money and try to convince yourself that for that kind of money you could handle getting beat with a bat all day. But, after a little while, it’ll start to sink in, you don’t want to get hit with a bat for any amount of money. That’s where we live with teachers.
So, yes, more money would possibly help stem the exodus. But it’s also critical to have leaders that respect the profession rather than constantly attacking it.
As a result of years of policy negligence, states are now turning to extreme solutions that effectively allow just about any breathing person to teach. Former Indiana State Education Superintendent Jennifer McCormick noted recently:
This is, then, the logical result of a two-pronged attack on public educators - keep pay low, relentlessly attack the profession with ever-changing accusations.
The conclusion, of course, is this is exactly what policymakers wanted all along.
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