Taking Back Teaching

Jo Kuyvenhoven. Professor of Education (Literacy/Reading), Calvin College

This is a tough time to be a teacher.  On the one hand, we, who teach, have deep pleasure in our work.  It’s endlessly interesting, often satisfying, and never boring.  Everyday is percolated through by intellectual and creative challenges; by the fascinating lives of 20 or more others sharing our room; and new frontiers for teaching and learning we confront daily.

On the other hand, most of us are experiencing what the statistics tell us.  There is a growing problem. Fewer people want to teach.  It is a job that is perceived to be unattractive and under siege.  From 1971 - 2000, the percentage of college entry students declaring interest in education stayed between 11-10%.  But, by 2015, that dropped to 4.5% according to data gathered by the UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program (2016).  The plummeting enrollment of future teachers is exacerbated by the current rate of attrition, 8% annually.  Two thirds of teachers quit before they take retirement.  We are short of teachers in many places today; by 2020 the USA will need 300,000 qualified teachers.   That shortage will challenge the well-being of our future nation.  It also bodes something deeper concerning the health of our profession. 

Why don’t people like to teach anymore?  If you are connected to the teaching profession, you can easily think of many reasons. Teaching is hard work!  Sure, there’s a “summer holiday,” but for 10 full months a typical work day stretches from 7 AM to 11 PM, with just a few brief breaks for personal needs. [1]  The job is also complex, increasingly so.  Teachers master diverse content knowledges each with its applied skills.  They also need to know the subject area with its social developmental increments for teaching and learning. Teachers address and facilitate social-emotional and cultural diversity for inclusion and positive participation by all.  While working with common standards, they differentiate instruction. On a daily basis they write plans, conduct formative and summative assessments, and reportage.  They meet with parents, administrators, and school teams. They need good health and physical energy in a job that demands getting children’s interest, patrolling playgrounds, creating learning environments, and doing anything they can to engage restless children for almost 6 hours at a stretch.  They juggle responsibility to administrators, parents, evaluators, but primarily, to their children.

Most of those are not the reasons cited for leaving the profession.  For one, while the job is arduous and accountability demands are very high, the pay is low.  Teachers earn an average of 17% lower wages than those with comparable education.  In a female dominated profession (elementary), it is not surprising that child care or pregnancy (37%) causes many good teachers to leave.   High on the scales of dissatisfaction are the more “recent school accountability measures,” and “the administration” as these accounted for 25 and 21% respectively for teacher attrition. 

In this blog we hope to offer a place to share insights about why we teach.  Share ideas, news, problems and issues that are common to all of us.  Pull our insights-out and imagine possibilities, courage, and the understandings we need to teach well.  Nourish excitement and interest in our vital profession.

[1] Leib Sutcher, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Desiree Carver-Thomas (2016).  “A Coming Crisis in Teaching?  Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S.”  Learning Policy Institute.  Downloaded from: <https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/A_Coming_Crisis_in_Teaching_REPORT.pdf> December 17, 2017.  This comprehensive document about the state of teacher-education and related US national data and demands for teachers, offers a detailed and very interesting description.

Jo Kuyvenhoven is a Professor of Education at Calvin College, teaching in both the undergraduate and graduate program. She currently teaches literacy/reading courses in both levels. She is a literacy consultant to International Rescue Committee (IRC)