If you listen to reports of people who survive tsunamis, they invariably report that just before the massive wave hits, the shoreline suddenly moves out to sea. Quite a few people who are aware of this are able to give people a few moments of warning to move further inland to avoid the worst of a tsunami if they notice the waterline retreating several yards in a very short amount of time. Tsunamis are disasters that have a sign preceding the worst of it, that alerts people to what is about to happen.
The Associated Press reported last night a confirmation that teachers and administrators have known for the past three years, but has not gotten a lot of news (and even less attention in state houses because many states have cut off communication with school leaders and teachers). The news: substitute teachers are getting very, very hard to find. The article singles our Washington state, where 84 of 94 reporting school districts cited that they were having trouble finding substite
The question is why, and like all problems there are many reasons: many schools have slightly reduced pay for substitute teachers. Changes in discipline policy in some areas (mostly urban schools) has made substitute teaching very difficult, and no longer worth the money. Population shifts are another reason.
As an aside, a question that many in the public might have is “Where do substitutes come from?” The number one source of substitutes is retired teachers and fresh out-of-college students who are waiting to get their first teaching job. After that, there are people in the community who have gotten a certification in as a substitute (different states have different laws), and do this to supplement their income (generally people who are self-employed). Also down the list are teachers who have been released as part of reduction in force.
This all comes at a time when the need for subs is greatly increasing. More and more teachers are taking medical and sick leave as they age, and as the stress from the job increases. As a part of the new laws and accountability, there is more mandatory training for teachers. I have always tried to do my training during the summers when I am not teaching, because I hate losing time from class if ti can be avoided. Unfortunately, training opportunities over the summer have become fewer and far between. My school mandated that all teachers take assessment literacy (ass lit, for those who want to know what the teachers call it). I e-mailed my assistant superintendent three times requesting a summer course on this. She never replied, and this year I was told that I had to take it over the school year, causing me to miss four days of school while I learned the need to not give zeroes to students who refuse to do work, or why students should be permitted to retake tests whenever they feel they didn’t do a good job on a test). For the first 15 years of my teaching career, I averaged under 2 sick days-per-year. In the past 6, that number has jumped to about 4 per-year (and that doesn’t count time lost for school related training, meetings, etc), and I am considered one of the healthier teachers in terms of sick days used.
The sudden dip in substitutes is indicative of a few key factors:
1. Retired teachers are refusing to return to schools after they retire. More and more (at least around here, and here is still relatively good compared to the rest of the country). Retired teachers who used to be a large part of our substitute corps are no longer coming back (10 years ago, I might see a dozen or so retirees coming back to sub in a given year … I’ve only seen one this year, and we are in far more need of subs now than in the past).
2. There are almost no up-and-coming teachers coming out to sub, because the number of up-and-coming teachers has been drying up fast. This year, my department has had no young teachers (people between college and their first job) substituting. We have had the need for two long-term subs, and only one of those positions has been filled (by a teacher who was dismissed by another district to reduce their numbers). The other position is being filled day-to-day.
3. Even teachers who have lost their jobs are completely walking away from education.
This is one of those signs that was predicted some time ago, and it is not good news for anyone (unless you happen to home school). This is having a big effect in private and charter schools (something that private schools and charters aren’t advertising … but since I am involved in Linked in, I get all of the help wanted postings in education … and the number of teaching jobs in charters is enormous … in private schools, it is starting to tick up). In the mad dash for accountability which actually isn’t making anyone more accountable, there is this belief that there exists some lost colony of people out there who are talented teachers who have been turned away from their jobs because of unions retaining based on seniority rather than talent. It is becoming more and more clear (and here we have another piece of evidence) that there are no large numbers of teachers-in-waiting (let alone good teachers-in-waiting) who can’t wait for the overthrow of seniority rules so that we can get rid of all the bad teachers and replace them with these people waiting for teaching jobs out there in the aether.
Until state legislatures and governors realize that recent political decisions have created an environment that is leading to a massive shortage in teachers on the horizon, that tsunami is going to keep moving toward shore. Human made problems can be solved by people …I truly believe that. But there is more and more evidence that is pointing toward this problem not being solved before at least some parts of the country suffering through some problems before that solution arrives. There are ways to hold teachers accountable without bringing down education in general.