For at least a decade, teachers like me have been telling anyone who would listen that a devastating teacher shortage was coming. Now, that prediction has come to pass and it’s only just getting started. Without swift, systematic changes, it will get much worse and, perhaps, irreparably worse. There are a lot of things we could do right now to start to turn this thing around and they could pretty much pay for themselves. I have selected three very simple things we could do tomorrow, if we only would, that could have an immediate impact on public education, the overall morale of school staff, and the worsening teacher shortage.
- Eliminate Expensive Standardized Testing Created by Outside Entities.
Here is where we could get the biggest bang for our buck. Since we started with high stakes standardized testing, states have spent hundreds of millions—if not billions—of dollars paying large corporations to write, administer, and assess standardized tests. This is not only unnecessary, but also criminally negligent. It is the single biggest underlying factor that has led to the departure of so many good teachers. The trickle-down aspect of this practice infests all other areas of public education. It is the metastasized cancer that threatens to kill one of the most precious parts of living in a free country—our public education system.
Perhaps the most sinister part of this problem is the fact that these outside companies write these test questions from a long list of standards that teachers can’t possibly cover adequately in 180 days of school, not to mention all the days we lose to the students taking these tests. Yet, the content covered on these tests are kept secret from teachers and guarded as if they should be kept in Fort Knox. Imagine teaching a class all year, doing the best you can to cover thoroughly as many standards as you can and then having some other person who’s never stepped foot in your classroom write your final exam, then being judged by your students’ results on this stranger’s exam. That’s how it goes in public education. In our professional development, teachers are admonished over and over that one of the essential elements of a good lesson is that students know and understand what the objective of the lesson is before they ever begin to learn it. Yet, the livelihood of teachers hangs in the balance of a system that goes out of its way to hide from us the objective of what we are supposed to accomplish. I can’t think of any other profession where the ultimate objective of job performance is kept a complete mystery from those doing the job.
This insane system being tied to teacher pay has caused millions of teachers to leave the classroom and head for the hills while the education schools in colleges across the nation are not exactly bursting at the seams with replacements.
Yet the solution is so simple—and cheap! Just allow teachers to write the standardized tests themselves. Hire a panel of teachers from each tested subject to go to the state capital and hammer out a solid, standards-based assessment for each grade level. Write a pre-test to be given at the beginning of the year to establish a baseline of where students are when they begin, and a post-test to be given at the end of the year to show how much each student learned. The tests wouldn’t be a secret to teachers and the evaluation of teachers would be fair and based upon what actually happened in their classrooms. And the kicker is, this system would cost pennies on the dollar compared to big corporation created standardized tests. What about that doesn’t make sense?
2. Invest in More Alternative Schools
Another significant part of the teacher shortage is the stress and burnout that comes with having to constantly deal with the same disruptive behaviors from the same students, day in and day out. Any teacher can tell you of the frustrations of writing referral after referral on a student only to have them sent right back to class time and time again because administration is either overrun with other issues, or because they are under intense pressure to reduce their schools’ discipline numbers. Every school needs a place to send the students who aren’t fitting in to the regular school environment so that they can get more intensive help in a setting designed for their unique needs. The term “least restrictive environment” is commonly used in special education when determining how much inclusion into regular classes a student with special needs should have. Sometimes, I feel like we ignore the “least restrictive environment” needs of our many students who work hard and try to do their best—whether they have special needs or not. Students with chronic classroom behavior issues often make the learning environment more restrictive for their classmates. There needs to be other placement options for such students. Let’s invest in alternative schools and in staff to work them. Let’s hire teachers and support staff with special training in behavioral science. Let’s get those kids—the ones who continually disrupt—out of our standard classrooms and into classrooms specifically designed and staffed by professionals to meet their special needs. Then, only when those students are properly equipped with the skills they need to cope in a regular classroom setting, send them back and allow them to be positive contributors to the learning environment. Doing this would keep a lot more teachers in the profession.
3. Expand and Invest in Trade-Based Educational Paths
This step goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Often, those students who become chronic behavior problems do so because they’ve long since lost interest in the content they are being taught. Some students are square pegs being pounded into round holes. They are being forced into college preparatory paths when they have no interest in, or intention of ever going to college. Many of them do have interests in honing the types of skills that the skilled trades are begging for across the country right now. There are some amazing trade school facilities available to high school students scattered around here and there, but there aren’t enough of them. What’s more, there are few, if any options like this for middle school aged students that I’m aware of. What if we invested in expanding these opportunities into new places and for younger students? I believe that it would help kill two birds with one stone. We’d place some of our students who cause trouble because they see no point to the classes they are forced to take into situations where they could thrive and succeed, and we’d help to fill a big void that exists in our skilled-trades in the United States.
Oh yeah, and we’d keep more teachers in the profession.
This isn’t rocket science. We can fix this now if legislators with specious and nefarious motives would get out of the way.
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