The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘We’re at a tipping point’: Whom do you want teaching your children?

6 min

Concern in the education world about the future of the teaching profession is at a fever pitch as school districts deal with issues including:

  • chronic teacher shortages made worse by the coronavirus pandemic
  • teacher morale at a low point — fueled by low pay, restrictions on what they can say in class about certain subjects, and what educators say is a lack of respect for what they do
  • sharp declines in the number of people who enroll in traditional training programs and problems with some alternative teacher preparation programs

“It’s a race to the bottom for the professionalization of teachers,” Christopher Morphew, dean of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, told me in a recent interview.

In 2019, an alliance of more than 350 deans and other leaders in the field of teacher education issued a major statement saying many teacher preparation programs don’t work well — but that some reforms were “making things worse” because they focus on incentives and other market-oriented approaches that do not address systemic inequities.

Yes, teacher-preparation programs need to be fixed — but more than 350 education leaders say reforms are ‘making things worse’

The statement also says these alternative preparation programs lack a research base, an issue raised in a new report by the Dallas Morning News, about an alternative program called the Texas Teachers of Tomorrow. (In Texas, most first-year classroom educators graduate from alternative programs.) The paper reported:

The largest teacher preparation program in Texas — enrolling nearly 70,000 would-be educators last year — is not making the grade, according to state regulators.
Texas Teachers of Tomorrow misled potential teachers with its advertising, didn’t support candidates with mentors as is required and failed to demonstrate that its training was based in research, officials found. Some new teachers left the profession in frustration after receiving poor advice that led to financial troubles, they told the state...
Of the state’s nearly 132,000 candidates enrolled in teacher prep programs last year, roughly 52% were learning through Texas Teachers of Tomorrow. But an audit conducted last year by the Texas Education Agency found the company (also known as A+ Texas Teachers) out of compliance in key state standards including admission, curriculum and governance.

A 2020 issue brief by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that from 2009-2010 to 2018-2019, the average number of education graduates across all types of institutions offering teacher preparation programs fell by 24 percent. After the coronavirus pandemic led to the closure of schools across the country in spring 2020, chronic teacher shortages got worse and concerns rose about the teacher pipeline.

Morphew said in the interview that teacher education schools are taking a hard look at how they can recruit and retain high-quality candidates within the current environment without saddling them with huge student loans and debts. He wrote the following post about the problem, which, if not addressed, will affect all Americans.

Morphew is an expert in education policy and leads a highly ranked school of 2,400 graduate students, including those enrolled in traditional and alternative certification teacher education programs. He grew up in a family of public school educators.

So much for Teacher Appreciation Week

By Christopher Morphew

Debates raging in state capitols about “parental rights” tell us a lot about what American policymakers think of K-12 teachers. Apparently, not very much.

Bills being considered and enacted into law in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Wisconsin, and other states would give parents the rights to review curricula, determine the pronouns used for their children, opt their children out of certain subjects, and sue teachers and schools for failing to consider their educational preferences.

During statehouse arguments, teachers routinely are accused of inaccurately and unnecessarily politicizing subjects like history, science, and math and promoting a woke worldview. It seems clear that those advocating for “parental rights” in these cases are skeptical of not only teachers’ intentions but also their professional expertise.

Lurking beneath the rhetoric of this dispute seems to be a fundamental doubt that teachers can really be trusted with our children’s developing minds. The underlying question: Are teachers really professionals?

Well, are they? Have they undergone specialized training? Have they acquired skills essential to their practice? Do these skills include knowledge of best practices and ethical standards? To those of us in the education field, the answer is clear. Teachers are licensed to practice after completing rigorous educational programs where they learn material, acquire and practice pedagogical techniques, and study theories that explain how children and adolescents learn and develop. Yes, they are professionals.

So, why does it matter whether teachers are perceived as professionals? The answer, it turns out, likely will determine who chooses to become a teacher, who stays in the classroom, and who ultimately teaches your children.

We have a teacher crisis in the United States. The U.S. Department of Education reports teacher shortages in every state. The need is particularly acute in STEM, special education, and foreign languages. In Arizona, where lawmakers are debating whether to allow teachers to be personally sued, the state has 1,700 openings — and shortages in nearly every subject area, according to DOE reports.

Over the past decade, the number of students majoring in education has dropped by more than 30 percent nationally. Oklahoma’s universities are enrolling 80 percent fewer teacher education students than in 2010. The state’s response is telling: It is allowing any state worker to continue to receive their salary while serving as a substitute. Likewise, New Mexico is recruiting National Guard Troops to fill-in as teachers.

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis. Teachers were forced to adopt virtual teaching methods and technology overnight and public schools have been at the center of the nation’s debate about masking and vaccine mandates.

All this has taken a toll. An Education Week survey conducted in March 2021 — mid-pandemic — described more than half of teachers as being somewhat or very likely to leave the profession in the next two years. In January 2022, a National Education Association poll found that more than half the nation’s teachers are now looking for an exit.

Add to those stressors the chance that a teacher in Arizona or Oklahoma or Kansas will be threatened or sued by a parent because she chose to call one of her students by a preferred pronoun or teach about the Tulsa Race Riots, and it’s reasonable to assume that even fewer college students will choose teaching.

Teachers don’t leave their profession because of the quality of their students. They don’t leave because they have stopped believing they can have a positive impact on children’s lives. Even the field’s comparative low pay does not necessarily deter them. Working conditions are among the most significant factors in predicting teacher attrition. Teachers — particularly new teachers — report that accountability measures, the challenges of the contemporary assessment environment, and lack of support are hugely important considerations.

No, teachers leave their profession because they aren’t treated like professionals.

We’re at a tipping point. States are adopting emergency measures to staff classrooms, students are opting out of studying education, and teachers are leaving in droves.

So, what’s at stake: It isn’t who wins an ideological debate about whether parent values trump curricular content. It’s who will be left to teach your children.

No, the teachers are not okay