Are we in the beginning stages of a nationwide teacher shortage? It would really be no surprise, would it? Is it any wonder that many teachers have finally reached the point where they are fed up with scripted teaching requirements and phony evaluations that include junk science VAM and furlough days and increased testing that reduces valuable teaching time and no pay raises and constant curriculum changes and repeated attacks on their profession from people that have no teaching experience and the constant attempts to legislate excellence and cut teacher salaries and reduce teacher benefits and monkey with teacher retirement and SLO’s for non-tested subjects and state and federal policies that require more and more paperwork and less and less teaching and tighter and tighter budgets that mean doing more and more with less and less and longer school days and larger classes with higher and higher expectations and a political agenda that actively encourages blaming teachers for societal issues and the denigration of public education and market based solutions and legislators bought and paid for by ALEC and a continued reliance upon standardized test scores as an accurate depiction of student learning and achievement with no substantive research to support such a position and top-down management from people that wouldn’t know good teaching if it spit on their shoes and slapped them in the face? No wonder teachers are discouraged. No wonder teacher morale is at an all- time low. No wonder more and more teachers are retiring.
Most teachers love their job. More specifically, they love the time they spend teaching students. What they don’t love is all of the paragraph above and all of the other things that get in the way of the time they spend actually teaching their students. They don’t mind the time after school for conferences and meetings, they don’t mind grading papers on weeknights and weekends, they don’t mind spreading a 9 month salary over 12 months so their families don’t go hungry in the summer and they can tolerate the interminable “professional development” meetings presented by people they don’t know using teaching methodology from the 1950’s because of some arcane system requirement and because “that’s the way we always done it.” They tolerate administrative interference and legislative buffoonery supposed to “fix” educational issues that only serve to provide news and photos ops rather than help students. They put up with all that because it’s what they have to wade through to get to the point where they can teach their kids. The change they affect on children’s learning is in almost every instance in spite of the legislative intrusions and administrative requirements rather than because of them.
Let’s add to all that the very real day-to-day responsibilities that aren’t listed in their contracts but are part of every teacher’s reality. You know, stuff like drug abuse education, alcohol abuse education, parenting, character ed, special ed, gender equity, environmental ed, women’s studies, African – American education, school breakfast, school lunch, lunch duty, daily attendance for each class, make-up tests, computer education, multicultural ed, ESL (ELL, ESOL), teen pregnancy, Jump Start, Even Start, Head Start, Prime Start, Bright from the Start, Kindergarten, Pre-K, alternative ed, stranger/danger, anti-smoking ed, mandated reporting, CPR training, defibrillator training, anaphylactic shock recognition training, inclusion, internet safety, distance learning, Tech Prep, School to Work, Gifted and Talented, at-risk programs, keyboarding, dropout prevention, gang education, homeless ed, service learning, gun safety, bus safety, credit recovery, dress code, cell phone monitoring, bus duty, bicycle safety, drivers ed, bullying ed, obesity monitoring, BMI (body mass index) monitoring, financial literacy, diabetes monitoring, media literacy, RTI, hearing and vision screening, on-line education, IEP meetings, parent meetings, faculty meetings, departmental meetings, mandated system meetings, 504 meetings, Georgia MILESTONES, EOCT, SAT prep, ACT prep, dual enrollment options, post -secondary options, AP, honors, IB, STEM, STEAM, adult ed, career ed, after-school programs, student interns, student observers, psychological services, RTTT, CCGPS, CCRPI and oh yes - lesson plans and classes……………..shall I go on? Wonderful ideas all, and each deserving attention – and all have come to be the responsibilities not of parents but of our schools and teachers. Hmmm...
So it’s really no surprise that teachers that love their kids and love teaching hate what it has become, is it? They get tired of getting blamed because every student doesn’t succeed at high levels and because politicians find it easier to blame teachers than to address societal problems that cause student underachievement. So not only are teachers retiring at a higher rate, but their replacements are not signing up for teacher education programs. This is not just a Georgia problem. Enrollments in teacher prep programs have gone down about 10% nationally between 2004 and 2012, and larger states like Texas and California have seen enrollment reductions in teacher prep programs of over 50%. Along with the economic recession of 2008 came a deadly combination of layoffs and misguided accountabilism that changed the perception of many that teaching was a stable, attractive profession. Particularly hard hit were the areas of special education, math and science.
In Georgia, over 9,000 teaching positions have been eliminated in public education since 2009, state money for public education has been reduced significantly and public school enrollment has grown from 1.6 to 1.7 million since 2010. Any way you look at it, that means larger classes sizes. At UGA, enrollment in the teacher education program has fallen 14% since 2009. Georgia State, Kennesaw State, Albany State and Valdosta state report reductions in enrollment in teacher prep programs as high as 36% in the same time period. So not as many replacements are being trained and the teachers we have are retiring at higher rates. The total number of Georgia teacher retirements by year for the last 10 years are listed in the chart below:
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 total
6213 5617 5891 5864 5564 6425 7168 7051 7929 7072 64,794
So that’s almost 65,000 teachers in our state that have retired in the last 10 years. You might think that figure is a phenomenon caused primarily by the long predicted retirement of baby boomers, and part of that assumption would be correct. But hold on just a moment. Let’s look a little deeper at the numbers. Below are the number of teachers that retired with 10-25 years of experience. Yes, 10-25 years of experience. That could mean a number of things - focus on family, better job offer, spouse transfers to other states, divorce, hit the lottery...and maybe more than a few tired of being on the front lines of the incessant political assault on public education.
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 total
2289 2119 2437 2513 2483 2999 3559 3577 4107 3979 30,062
That leaves us with about 30,000 teachers that retired in the last 10 years that left before they qualified for full retirement benefits. You might also notice that the numbers increased significantly in 2010 - 2014 compared to the previous 5 years. Draw your own conclusions as to whether or not that coincides with Governor Deal’s ALEC inspired war on public education or whether the increase is coincidental.
Delving a little further, there is another telling trend that is a little more ominous. Teacher retirements among those with 10-15 years of experience have also increased dramatically over the last few years.
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 total
907 815 975 1010 1008 1195 1455 1532 1721 1744 12,362
Let me see... that’s over 12,000 teachers that chose to retire with 10 to 15 years’ experience; 7,647 of them (62%) in the last 5 years alone. Once again, draw your own conclusions - the Deal effect or the greener grass syndrome? My personal belief is that the answer is yes.
Can you guess Georgia’s response to the reduction in the number of teachers in the hiring pool and plans to replace them? Is it to actively recruit those with teaching certification that left the profession early? Is it to increase incentives for retired teachers to return to the classroom? Guess again. Teachers that have retired, regardless of the years of experience, are limited in what they may do in retirement without negatively affecting their TRS retirement income. They may substitute teach, teach in private school, teach in another state, be employed in the private sector, work for the State of Georgia in a different government agency, be self-employed, work in professions not covered by TRS (Board of Regents or Technical College) and can only work full time in a position covered by TRS for a 3 month period. Those receiving TRS pensions can, after a one month break between retirement and reemployment, work in TRS covered positions but only in a part time (49% or less) capacity. Administrators are specifically prohibited from returning to their prior positions. These restrictions are legislative.
With these restrictions, it would seem that Georgia has little or no interest in filling teacher shortages, present or future, by using retired teachers, regardless of years of experience. Maybe the plan is to recruit new teachers - you know, the old “best and brightest” stuff we hear from politicians all the time. The same politicians that think it’s a good idea to evaluate teachers using student test scores whether the teachers actually teach those students or not. You might think that they want to recruit great candidates for the teaching pool, but once again you would be wrong. Instead of making teaching more attractive by reducing the Title 20 restrictions that inhibit student learning, legislators constantly find reasons those restrictions are “important” and must stay in place. I must admit I am more than a little puzzled about why a law that inhibits student learning is proposed or approved in the first place, but Title 20 seems to be full of them. John Barge, to his credit, did lead an initiative to eliminate some of these inane rules. Most remain intact, and are given as reasons systems should seek charter or IE2 status - relief from some of those restrictions that will allow “flexibility to innovate” and “the possibility of financial savings” for systems. No, really. Look it up. Then ask your local school administrators about the DOE summer “recalibration” meetings to show them that too many teachers were scoring too high on the new evaluations and not enough were failing. Again...no fooling.
Well then, maybe we are looking at increasing teacher pay or retirement benefits for prospective teachers. Wrong again. The Governor’s former education advisor led the fight to reduce teacher pay by eliminating supplements for training and experience and by changing the way teachers - and the state of Georgia - pay for teacher retirement. “Recommendations about pensions and pay would only affect future hires,” said Erin Hames, Deal’s education policy adviser and a liaison to the commission: “The important thing to say is that these changes, like the changes on T&E, would not impact current teachers.”
OK, then I guess the Governor is leading the charge to encourage new teachers by working to lessen state paperwork or intrusive laws or unfunded mandates for school systems? No, he is looking to form a new layer of bureaucracy and drain even more money from public schools with his OSD...you know, the government program run by a political appointee that will turn around the lowest performing schools by removing local control and creating yet another state entity. That’s always worked so well in the past, hasn’t it? Look at all the successful government programs we can point to as models of efficiency and effectiveness and progress….like...um….nevermind. The Governor says it will work so his reassurance is all we really need.
So what can we do to head off the effects of the shortage of teachers? Several quick fixes that would have an immediate positive effect are:
- Allow retired teachers with more than 10 and less than 25 years experience to return to work without affecting their partial retirement pay. Legislators do it all the time. Why can’t teachers?
- Encourage teachers with 25 years or more experience to teach 1-3 classes per day at a per student rate. This will save systems dollars. They don’t have to pay retirement or additional insurance costs for teachers that are already retired.
- Eliminate or significantly reduce those extra duties and paperwork that teachers are required to do that have little or nothing to do with curriculum or effective teaching; see paragraph 3. Most of these are parental responsibilities anyway, and better taught by parents that are responsible for kids 16 hours a day and all weekend rather than teachers who only see them for 8 hours 5 days a week at the most.
- Allow systems money to pay stipends in addition to regular salary for teachers to work in designated rural or high poverty areas. It’s harder work, it requires more time and effort and addresses a real need that would immediately help systems that have trouble attracting and keeping great teachers.
- Remove any consideration of student test scores as part of teacher evaluations. Rating teachers by student scores on standardized tests is like rating doctors by the number of their patients that eventually die. The VAM idea is not supported by research or by common sense.
Real teaching is hard. The fixes to educational issues are not easy and are not available through political mandates of excellence for all...unless, of course, the real goal is the destruction of public education by whatever means necessary. Through the machinations of private foundations working in the interest of multinational corporations to colonize public education, for instance. In that case the teacher shortage is working just as it should for your kids. And your neighbor’s kids. But not theirs.