Want more teach­ers? Im­prove teach­ing

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Nancy S. Gras­mick Nancy S. Gras­mick is a pres­i­den­tial scholar at Tow­son Univer­sity and a for­mer Mary­land su­per­in­ten­dent of schools. Her email is ngras­mick@tow­son.edu.

Most ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts be­lieve that we are in the throes of a na­tional teacher short­age. There is no lack of opin­ion on the pri­mary cause.

Some point to a decade-long, weak­ened econ­omy that has led to un­prece­dented teacher lay­offs, caus­ing potential ap­pli­cants to shy away from teach­ing over job se­cu­rity con­cerns. Oth­ers be­lieve that the short­age is be­ing driven by a strength­en­ing job mar­ket with more op­tions to en­ter higher pay­ing pro­fes­sions. Fe­male stu­dents, who tra­di­tion­ally made up the ma­jor­ity of the teach­ing force, are be­ing heav­ily re­cruited to en­ter the once male­dom­i­nated pro­fes­sions of engi­neer­ing and tech­nol­ogy.

In­creased cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments may also be hav­ing un­in­tended con­se­quences, along with con­cerns about the class­room cli­mate. There is a sim­mer­ing neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of the cur­rent class­room en­vi­ron­ment be­ing fu­eled by news re­ports about school and class­room vi­o­lence, the lack of re­spect shown to teach­ers, and the po­lit­i­cal de­bate over such re­forms as Com­mon Core and stan­dard­ized “high­stakes” test­ing. In sur­vey af­ter sur­vey, teach­ers ex­press frus­tra­tion about los­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to be cre­ative in their class­rooms and de­cry ever-chang­ing poli­cies made by non-ed­u­ca­tors who haven’t set foot in a class­room in decades.

What­ever the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons, the fact re­mains that teach­ers are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion and the num­ber of stu­dents en­rolling in teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams is dra­mat­i­cally de­clin­ing. In Mary­land, be­tween 2012 and 2014, 2,500 fewer stu­dents en­rolled in teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams. Dur­ing the same time frame, pre-K through 12 ed­u­ca­tion gained nearly 30,000 more stu­dents.

States are rush­ing to adopt emer­gency reme­dies. Teach­ing cer­tifi­cates are be­ing is­sued to col­lege grad­u­ates with no ed­u­ca­tion course­work, no stu­dent teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and no ex­pec­ta­tion that these re­quire­ments ever be met. States are look­ing to re­ten­tion bonuses and in­cen­tives to stem the “bleed­ing” of teach­ers out of the pro­fes­sion. Oth­ers are hop­ing to at­tract stu­dents through schol­ar­ships and stu­dent loan for­give­ness pro­grams. These reme­dies may pro­vide short-term re­lief, but we must still an­swer the ques­tion of why fewer and fewer col­lege stu­dents see teach­ing as a de­sir­able ca­reer path.

For the last sev­eral years, it has been my priv­i­lege to serve as the Pres­i­den­tial Scholar at Tow­son Univer­sity. I am for­tu­nate that I get to in­ter­act with Tow­son’s tal­ented stu­dents and fac­ulty on a daily ba­sis. As we dis­cuss ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions, I am dis­mayed that fewer and fewer mil­len­ni­als ex­press an in­ter­est in teach­ing. Tow­son’s out­stand­ing Col­lege of Health Pro­fes­sions now regis­ters the largest con­tin­gent of stu­dents, sur­pass­ing its Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion.

In the 2014 Harris Poll on “the most pres­ti­gious oc­cu­pa­tions in Amer­ica,” teach­ing was edged out of the top 10 by ath­letes. Doc­tors, mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers, sci­en­tists and nurses were seen as the top five most pres­ti­gious oc­cu­pa­tions. More telling, 73 per­cent of peo­ple over 69 years of age held teach­ing in high es­teem, while only 57 per­cent of mil­len­ni­als (ages 18-37) had a fa­vor­able im­pres­sion of the teach­ing pro­fes­sion.

In those coun­tries where el­ders are ven­er­ated for their knowl­edge and life ex­pe­ri­ences, teach­ers are still ad­mired and revered. By con­trast, in West­ern so­ci­ety which has moved to­ward a more “youth- cen­tric cul­ture,” the role of the teacher is not af­forded the same level of re­spect. If states are se­ri­ous about at­tract­ing new teach­ers, they must de­velop mar­ket­ing strate­gies that ap­peal to mil­len­ni­als, who em­brace op­por­tu­ni­ties to change the world around them. Teach­ers must be por­trayed as cre­ative, em­pow­ered change-agents that trans­form young lives.

We must seek out and ac­cept only the high­est achiev­ers for en­try into our teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams. Teach­ing can­not be the de­fault pro­gram for those who are not ac­cepted into other ma­jors. Nor should it be a “stop­gap” along an­other ca­reer tra­jec­tory be­cause it looks good on a re­sume.

Some teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams have been mired in a by­gone era for too long. We­need to ac­tu­ally give new teach­ers the tools to make them want to stay in the class­room and to be ef­fec­tive. Far too of­ten newteach­ers tell us that they want to bet­ter en­gage stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties and English lan­guage learn­ers, but they just don’t know how to do it ef­fec­tively. Teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams must train stu­dents to man­age the class­room — the No. 1 source of frus­tra­tion for new teach­ers. Mary­land’s Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute is world-renowned for its re­search in how stu­dents learn; our col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties should em­brace this re­search and train stu­dents in the neu­ro­science of learn­ing.

It is time for Mary­lan­ders to an­swer this call to ac­tion. Let us ac­knowl­edge that teach­ers make all other pro­fes­sions pos­si­ble and work col­lec­tively to el­e­vate the teach­ing pro­fes­sion and teach­ers to heights they richly de­serve.

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