Teaching – Not what it use to be (soapbox warning)

As I stumble out of my 15th year of teaching and look ahead to the last half of my career, I can’t help but marvel at the changes I have seen in the classroom. It is really quite amazing how quickly our education system has changed. I can still remember the first day of my teaching practicum at Spectrum High School 1993. I thought it was just so cool when I saw one of the teachers, printing out a crossword he created using a new fangled program on his Apple II. The only problem was that he could only create a few every month because the ribbon for the dot matrix printer was too expensive and office staff got mad at him for wasting it on his silly crosswords. Today I find myself part of an iPad pilot where I have essentially gone completely paperless. The classroom is being revolutionized and turned upside down by the digitization of information and curriculum delivery. So much is changing so quickly , it is difficult to keep up at times.

The pedagogical wisdom I was imbued with during my university years has become a faded memory. In part because of the distance between then and now but also because, much of what was dispensed in the 90’s as educational gospel, just doesn’t apply any longer. In 18 short years it seems like I have been transported from the good old days of education and deposited in the middle a brave new world in the digital classroom. These are uncertain times for education but there is also great excitement for what lies ahead and I for one, look forward to being a part of what is shaping up to be an educational revolution.

Although I reminisce with fondness the past and feel great excitement about the possibilities that lay ahead, it cannot be said that everything in our school systems are rosy. All anyone needs to do is flip on their local new cast and see that education systems all over North America are struggling with major issues around achievement and engagement of our students. To complicate matters, major discord between policy makers and educators has completely stalled any sort of cooperative approach toward making positive changes to our education system.

Policy makers feel that today’s teachers are not committed enough, don’t do enough to engage their students, spend to little time on professional development and expect far too much in compensation. In short, they feel teachers care too little about the job and expect too much in return and naturally teachers are taking great offense to this affront on their professionalism.

Now as someone who is smack dab in the middle of their career, I get to see our past move on and our future take its place. It is a weird place to be at times but I believe it affords me a clear view of what is really at issue here and it really isn’t all that complex.

My colleagues who are leaving are dong so after 30 years of outstanding service. Not a single one of them would I dare criticize for the work they have done and the lives they have influenced. They are the foundation on which our public school systems were built and flourished for decades. The new teachers who replace my esteemed colleagues are outstanding in their own right. Bright, energetic and well-educated, they all show extraordinary promise and are excellent additions to the profession BUT…

Where my retiring colleagues were able to focus their energy on their job, own a home, raise a family and have a relatively comfortable living over the course of their career, up and coming teachers haven’t a prayer of doing the same. The standard of living which the profession once enjoyed is retiring right along with the teachers who enjoyed it. What we are seeing today, are teachers struggling to just to make ends meet. Most young teachers I encounter are working 1 or 2 additional jobs over and above their teaching assignments just make rent, never mind supporting a family or buying a home.

Now some might say: “As it should be! If those lazy teachers want more money then get another job and quit robbing the tax payers pocket!” but the ramifications of this attitude are rather significant. Instead of teachers investing time and effort in their careers and the school for which they work, they use their time outside of the classroom to simply pay the bills. All those things that my retiring colleagues use to do outside class time, are falling by the wayside out of economic necessity.

The result is that you are left with teachers in our schools who simply can’t put the time in that society has come to expect from their teachers. What we are seeing ever more frequently, are young teachers leaving the profession in very short order. They hardly stick around long enough for a cup of coffee in the staff room.

My last student teacher bailed on the profession after only two years. This young man was a phenomenal talent and made me look like an itinerant Sunday school teacher right out of the gate. He loved teaching and would have been an asset to any school he set foot in but he saw no financial future in it so he left. When discussing his departure over a pint he said, “To be the teacher I would want to be, I would have to invest too much of my time and effort in exchange for too little money. It simply doesn’t make good economic sense to continue.”

This is but one example of many and part of a growing concern about the future of the teaching profession. The equation is simple. We can’t expect teachers to be as vested in their careers and their students as our retired colleagues were because they simply can’t afford to?

The question then is, will this situation continue to get worse? Unfortunately I can’t see any improvement coming down the pike and there are a few reasons for this.

  • The tax dollars are simply not there to pay teachers in a way which would make much of a difference to anyone’s bottom line. To give teachers a raise that would create a lifestyle similar to that our predecessors would be intolerable for most taxpayers.
  • As long as North American kids continue to fall in international rankings, there will be no impetus to pay teachers anything more than what they all ready get.
  • Public opinion toward teachers is hostile, in large part because teachers can no longer do the job as it was once done.
  • Paying teachers in a way which allows them to do the job as their predecessors did, would be political suicide for anyone who dare step up and made it happen.

What it all comes down to is that in spite of entering an exciting new age in education, moving ahead will be difficult. The good old days, where teachers could afford to invest in their careers and countless hours to their students, have come to and end and they are not coming back any time soon.

It is a sad state of affairs and I am sure I will get spanked for this post but it is just the way a teacher who has a clear line of sight to the past and the future, sees it.

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