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It's So Hard To Say Goodbye...

It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye…

    Most teachers love their jobs.  Most teachers are very good at their jobs.  As in any profession, there are exceptions, but what’s scary about the education profession now is not that there are enormous numbers of bad teachers (there aren’t) but that there are enormous numbers of good teachers that have recently retired or soon will.  Some absolutely can’t wait to get out that schoolhouse door for the last time, and their replacements are not exactly flooding into teacher prep courses. Add that to the 44% of new teachers that never make it past their first five years and we have a full blown teacher shortage.  Here are the numbers from the Georgia TRS:
Retirees in Georgia
Yrs. Exp     2007     2008     2009     2010     2011     2012     2013     2014     2015     2016
10-15           975       1010     1008     1195     1455     1532     1721     1744     1659    1695
16-20           704       720         701      786        954       920     1107     1066     1119    1094
21-25           758       777         774    1018      1150     1125     1279     1169     1164    1130
26-30          2725    2665       2480    2736      2797     2589     2762     2099     2190    2297
Totals         5891    5864       5564     6425     7168     7051     7929      7072     7167    7217

    One of the keys in the chart above is the increase in retirements for those with less than 30 years’ experience.  Not only are we losing 44% of new teachers it appears that those with 10-25 years are opting out too.  This problem of finding good teachers is also a function of geography.  Many systems -especially rural schools - are struggling to find qualified teachers.  It will soon get worse.
    The GADOE says there are currently 1.7 million students in Georgia’s public schools and that close to 7,000 new teachers are hired each year. In 2015, there were 19,428 students enrolled in USG teacher education programs.  Considering that, over the next 4 years, all of those graduate and seek employment, the best case scenario is that we will have a little under 5,000 teachers graduate each year from 2015-2018.. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement says there were 110,059 teachers and 8,449 leaders  (118,508 total) employed in schools in 2015.  They also note that of that number 3,313 have provisional certificates, and that 44% of all new hires leave the profession in the first 5 years of their new careers. About 25% of the total teacher workforce is made up of teachers with less than 5 years’ experience and 51% of all teachers had fewer than 10 years’ experience.  Also  problematic is that the University System of Georgia says that the production of new teachers - not those that enter teacher education courses but the ones that actually graduate - is down 20% from 2011-2015.  Specific teaching areas like math, science and special education are experiencing even greater shortages, and many systems in Georgia have positions that remain unfilled. The AMTE reports, in a national survey of math teacher educators, three reasons for the drop in prospective math teachers:
  1. More money available in other careers;
  2. Perceived or imagined perceptions of teaching (high stakes testing, de-professionalization of teaching, lack of bargaining rights and teacher burnout);
  3. Negative perception and lack of respect for the teaching profession.
    I found these perceptions in line with my own observations, but decided to ask present and former teachers what they thought.  This is not scientific data gathering, and I make no claim that these perceptions represent the beliefs and ideas of all teachers, but here they are:
What would make teaching more attractive to present and future teachers?
  • Raises would be great, but capping the experience raises at 17 years doesn’t encourage us to stay any longer than we have to.
  • Most teachers don’t go into the profession with expectations of financial reward, but they do need to see they are respected.
  • Raise teacher salaries every time politicians vote themselves a raise. Don’t tell me we can’t afford teacher raises. The money suddenly appears every time they want one for themselves or their staff.
  • Stop micromanagement and buying every program that comes along.  The curriculum is now scripted and there is no opportunity for creativity.
  • Eliminate external influence and political meddling.  Allow teachers to be professionals and have a say in what counts as good teaching.  
  • Eliminate ALL standardized testing during school hours. Effective testing is diagnostic. Current testing serves no educational purpose when we don’t see scores until the following year.
  • I have a great fear of litigation (even after 19 years of teaching) because of the complexity and rules of testing and special education services. Parents seem to automatically assume every issue is the teacher’s fault.
  • Teachers enter the profession because they love teaching.  Paperwork, testing, test prep, unpaid duties, larger classes and micromanagement make it impossible to find the time to actually teach.
  • Many teachers enter the profession because of the retirement.  Changing it will serve to discourage candidates even more.
  • Eliminate the TKES/LKES evaluations.  Kids don’t take the tests seriously because there are so many of them every semester.  At least the GTEP gave me constructive criticism, ideas and things I could actually influence in my classroom.
  • Our politicians listen to the wrong people.  Teachers are rarely included as part of any discussion about improving education.  It’s like a baseball owner that thinks he knows the baseball side of operations.  Having control of baseball finances doesn’t mean you can judge baseball talent. The same applies to teaching.
  • Professional development is time wasted.  Teachers could teach each other much more effectively than anyone else IF we were given the chance.
  • We are operating on a calendar that is a carryover from 150 years ago.  We need a 6 hour day with 210-225 days a year and a summer break with no summer school.
  • Discipline is deteriorating because administrators worry too much about numbers and parent reaction and central office interference and not the negative effects of misbehavior on the kids in the classes that want to be there and want to learn.  Students are often allowed to avoid any consequence at all for misbehavior.
  • The USDOE should be eliminated.  They collect Title I money from states and send it back to the states.  Name one thing they do to help kids learn or help teachers in the classroom.
  • Drop the “data driven” sham.  Data are not sensitive to context and kids are not data.
  • Somebody somewhere needs to remember that a lot of these kids come from homes dysfunctional beyond belief.  How can we overcome that during the school day in a class of 35 students?
  • No class should have more than 24 students.  Period. Right now I have 34 in my smallest class.
  • Why do we continue with the misguided belief that all students should go to college?  We need to restore CTAE classes and diplomas.
  • Some people don’t understand that it requires effort to succeed at being a student.  If we don’t get effort from students and are forced to pass them anyway what are they learning?
  • Teachers don’t have enough planning time.  When we do have a planning day it’s filled with a powerpoint specialist that’s never taught telling us how we should teach.
  • A solid school based mentoring program for new teachers is a necessity.  Mentors should be paid for the extra work involved.
  • A supportive and effective school administration is a requirement supporting effective teaching and learning for faculty and students. Teachers will put up with a lot if they feel they are being supported.
  • The pacing required with the pressure of testing and test prep does not allow students adequate “soak time” before we move to something else. We don’t have time to engage students in hands on tasks and activities required for deep learning. Test prep and testing are wasted learning time spent on superficial learning.
  • New teachers are usually the ones placed in the classes with the most at risk students.  They don’t have the experience or the skills to deal with them, and it becomes a sink or swim situation very quickly.  

      I also asked if these teachers would recommend their profession to those that might be interested.  Every respondent said yes, but only selectively. “Not everyone has the skill set to be a successful teacher. I think that I would advise a prospective teacher to do some honest self-appraisal before embarking on a career in education.  There are different kinds of successful teachers, but in addition to having a solid subject matter background, a successful teacher must have patience, perseverance, flexibility, and an ability for both self-criticism as well as the ability to accept positive criticism from others (including students).  If you don't learn from your mistakes and make improvements, you'll never make it in the classroom.  A sense of humor is also helpful.” Another said “IF they were passionate about teaching.  If they are interested in a 9-5 job find something else.” “If they are not committed to making a difference in the total child they should choose another profession.  THIS is the driving force behind great teachers and making a difference in a stressful profession.  If you are committed to making a difference, then it’s worth it.” “If you don’t like kids don’t try to be a teacher.  You are setting yourself - and them - up for failure.”
     In a previous life I had the good fortune to attend a meeting on organizational efficiency hosted by the CEO of Chik Fil A.  He said something that stuck with me - you know, one of those moments that you remember later and realize you had heard something profound that applies directly to what you do and believe and how you operate....I'm sure you've had those moments, too.  One of our group asked him "what do all these people in your corporate office do?"  He replied quickly "every person in our organization has one job, and that's to sell chicken sandwiches.  If you're not selling chicken sandwiches you'd better be doing something to help those that do."
    We need more people helping teachers be effective teachers.  More rules won’t help, more testing is a continued waste of money, time and resources, and political interference is a continual roadblock to effective teaching and learning.  The more politicians try to fix the more they break.  They are, after all, the ones that created the issues.  Should we really depend on them for answers to fix the mess they made?  So what can you do?  Glad you asked.
  1. Believe in and support teachers.  Poverty is the cause of achievement gaps and the number one obstacle to educational success.  Stop the culture of blaming teachers.  Teachers don’t cause poverty any more than law enforcement causes crime or doctors create disease.
  2. Invest in teachers.  Professional development should be experienced teachers working with less experienced teachers.  Pay great teachers to share their knowledge and ideas in ways that allow them to stay in the classroom.  One great teacher working with 3 or 4 others is a powerful tool.  Large groups of teachers listening to one “expert” in an auditorium is not.
  3. Pay great teachers more to work in high poverty schools.  Working in these schools is difficult.  Make it worth the effort for teachers that want to increase their salaries and stay in the classroom.  Want to attract great teachers to high poverty areas?  Pay them to travel and teach there.  Want to identify high poverty schools?  Simply look at standardized test scores.  They don’t tell you anything about teaching and learning but do serve wonderfully to point out through the zip code effect the level of poverty in a given area.
  4. Eliminate standardized testing for other than diagnostic purposes.  The money saved would be more beneficial invested in teaching and learning than in the autopsy reports generated at the insistence of accountabullies in the name of false accountability.  Allow teachers the opportunity to teach without having to teach to the test.
  5. Don’t believe in magic bullets.  The answer is not in canned programs guaranteed to produce higher test scores but in the power of great teachers to reach students on a personal level.  Invest in people and not in programs.  Success through standardization is a myth.  Every student needs and deserves individualized learning at all levels.  Educational achievement, like excellence, cannot be legislated.
  6. Technology is a tool for teachers and not an answer unto itself.  For every child that learns through technology alone there are more that fail miserably without the intervention and guidance of a teacher.  Lower class sizes, modernize the school calendar and give teachers the time and tools to teach.
  7. Help prevent legislative meddling in teaching and learning.  Unfunded mandates and  legislative attempts at applying standardized solutions to local issues have done more to hurt public education than to help.  Expecting every child to achieve at the same rate at the same level ignores fundamental differences in human development...sort of like Arnie Duncan’s plan to test special education students out of special education through higher expectations.  
  8. Top down implementation does not work in education any more than it does in government.  Issuing a decree that all children will succeed does not automatically mean that all children will succeed any more than outlawing death will make doctors more successful in treating diseases...but it will discourage doctors.
    My Dad told me you can always see what people believe in by observing how they spend their time and money.  The same is true for politicians.  Talking about the importance of education and passing legislation that continues to ask teachers to do more and more with less and less has gotten us into this mess. When your car doesn’t work you listen to a mechanic.  When you need to know what works in education talk to teachers.  If we don’t do something to end the “blame the teachers” game and attract more people to the teaching profession your child will not have the teacher you want.  They may not have a teacher at all.


  1. Dr. Arnold, it's sad, but true. Excellent report.

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