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Ideas for Tackling the Teacher Shortage

A mid-western farmer's daughter raised me, and she had a proverb for everything: "A stitch in time saves nine." "Many hands make light work." "A crowing hen and a gossiping girl, both come to no good end."- To name a few.  But my personal favorite, and one that she repeated to me time and time again when I became a teacher is, "You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar."   In other words we all respond better to praise than we do criticism. I think the same thing can be said when looking at a looming teacher shortage. 

This post isn't going to be about all the reasons why people aren't going into teaching. (You can read this article published by the Washington Post that sums it all up.) Instead I would like to share some "honey of ideas" that I believe would go a long way towards ending and preventing teacher shortages. 

First of all let's make four-year university tied to teacher preparation programs free with opt-outs for candidates who realize teaching isn't for them.  Along with this you could offer rewards for those who stay in teaching with satisfactory teacher evaluations at 5 years, 10 years, or more.    

Next, we need to develop career pathways across the country for teachers, which would acknowledge the need for hybrid educational roles: support professionals for new teachers, peer coaches, professional development facilitators, intervention program specialist, among others.  This way we can keep our excellent experienced teachers involved in day-to-day classroom life but also leverage time for them to take on the many leadership roles at school sites. 

Let's celebrate our teachers.  We can start by making national teacher recognition week real by having it supported by federal, state, and local governments who shine the spotlight on teachers everywhere.  Invite teachers to the White House, State Capitol, County Offices, Town Halls in mass across America for a breakfast, a luncheon, flower ceremony, something that says, "Hey we acknowledge you and appreciate you."  Right now it's a hodgepodge hit and miss and it usually puts a burden on local school leaders to get it done. (We have a teacher at our school that does a frenetic year of letter writing to local companies to get donations to make teacher goodie bags that are handed out during Teacher Appreciation Week.)  

Another way we can celebrate our teachers is by encouraging every newspaper, news-outlet in America into featuring an outstanding educator every single week. Along with a "adopt a pet day" let's have a "adopt a teacher."   News outlets could do a feature on a local teacher than let the community know what this teacher could really use help with in funding. 

Top down, one-size fits all, mandates need to be phased out to make room for greater teacher autonomy-- let teachers work on solving the problems that face their school communities. Support that autonomy with full funding and extra funds for schools that are in crisis.  Give room for teachers in those schools to try new things and adjust when needed. 

Lastly, base salaries for teachers need to be much, much, higher especially in urban areas where the cost of living is high.  We may even need to legislate this nationally (i.e. by telling states that a certain percentage of their budgets must be set aside for education and teacher salaries).  Besides higher base salary offer bonuses or incentivized compensations (i.e. team teaching, smaller course load, and part-time teaching) for working in hard to staff subject areas like STEM and in hard to staff schools in large urban areas like San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, rural communities and other demanding education markets. 

One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results; if we truly want to attract and retain the best teaching candidates we need to do things differently and that means thinking way outside of the box of current education reform.  

Want more on this topic? Check out this video, which captures how we need to start to change our thinking about teachers to tackle this problem before it becomes a crisis.   

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