This past weekend I went to a teacher’s conference in Athens. Teachers must have some sort of “look” because as my Muscogee County buddies and I walked around downtown, we played a silly game. “She’s definitely a teacher.” “Nope, he’s not.” “Oh no, no way she’s a teacher.”
Not exactly sure what that “look” is, but since I am a teacher, I’d like to go out on a limb and describe our look as maybe distinguished, well-kept and well-put-together, highly intelligent looking, and maybe even on the verge of gorgeous.
But who knows if we can really spot a teacher in a crowd. I do know, however, that the hotel was abuzz with people just like me: Teachers who are searching for answers and inspiration, new knowledge and new ideas. People who are not afraid to admit that we don’t know everything and have a lot to learn and are willing to do so. Professionals who tirelessly work to hone their craft by soaking up the experiences and ideas of others. We may not have an outward “look,” but we certainly have kindred spirits.
I shared a table with fellow teachers from across Georgia, and I discovered that some of the concerns we have here in Columbus are the same ones plaguing the minds and hearts of teachers all across this region. The most alarming and potentially detrimental to us all is the awesome shortage of teachers. Not only are fewer young, bright, talented college students choosing education as their career, but existing teachers are stepping away from the classroom at alarming rates.
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The reality is, the teaching shortage is already upon us. It’s not coming; it’s here. Ask around. Do a little investigating and see how many of Muscogee County’s 57 schools started recent school years with vacant teaching positions. I think you would be shocked. And it’s not just the “rough” schools or just Muscogee County, either. It’s districtwide, statewide, nationwide.
Think for a moment about the ramifications for a class of 30 eager-minded students without a certified, licensed teacher standing before them. Balloon that to several classrooms in several schools at several districts in many states, and the mind-blowing gets unimaginable. Yet, the reality is, holes in faculties are rampant.
That’s what we talked about this weekend. A bunch of like-minded people who make a living problem-solving sat around the dinner table trying to get to the root of why. Here’s what we came up with, if you’re interested.
Many teachers are leaving the profession because in today’s 21st century of high-stakes testing, helicopter parents, demanding evaluations, and a lack of professional and common courtesies, teachers are buckling under the pressure and the demands of a profession that has lost its luster. These demands eventually will mandate a choice: a life outside the school building or not.
Young mothers will always choose their children. Happily married spouses will always choose love. They have to because if they don’t, priorities get shifted and something dear to them gets sacrificed. And that’s simply not fair.
As we proclaimed this weekend, to be great at the job, there are not too many professions that require almost total consumption like education does. Good teachers can certainly testify to that reality - to be great often means to be consumed.
Although there were many bright problem-solvers in Athens this past weekend, we came up with no solutions that would pass Congress or local School Boards. So, until the people who make decisions bend their ear towards us, try and spot a teacher in the grocery store and tell them “Thanks”. They’ll be the tired-looking one with a cart full of chocolate cupcakes and caffeine.