Idaho is facing a teacher shortage.
And it’s bound to get worse. A report from the Economic Policy Institute says the United States was short 110,000 teachers in 2018 and that may shoot up to 200,000 by 2025.
That’s serious–two decades of research indicate good teachers make a major difference in the classroom.
It’s not that Idaho legislators have been ignoring the problem.
Beginning teacher pay has increased $10,000 in less than a decade.
Stipends for teachers who do more–coach kids, work on committees, mentor other teachers–are better funded.
Twelve hundred teachers received $4,000 Master Teacher Premiums this month. And funding the third rung of the career ladder salary program made the shortlist of recommendations by Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 education task force.
Is this enough to end the perennial shortage of qualified teachers in Idaho?
Not likely. We’re basically keeping up with actions other states are taking–and Idaho is starting with teacher pay more than $10,000 below the national average. And housing prices nearly doubling in recent years means we can no longer imagine that a lower cost of living is enough to make up the difference.
According to the State Board of Education, our problem is retention. Idaho issues enough teacher certificates to have a surplus of educators, but one-third never teach in this state. And 10 percent of out teachers each year quit each year, substantially more than the national average of eight percent.
Peter Green of Forbes magazine is emphatic that the problem is teacher pay. “If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage.”
Yet, he does note other factors of importance. “…over the past couple of decades teachers have also suffered a steady drumbeat of disrespect, the repeated refrain that US schools are failing and terrible, an accountability movement that is more about threats than support.”
An 18-year-old report from the ASCD, a professional learning community for teachers, helps us understand how harmful this is. “…New teachers enter teaching primarily for its intrinsic or psychological rewards—that is, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, the pleasure of working with children, and love of a particular subject area—rather than extrinsic rewards such as salary or public respect.”
Nobody chooses teaching for the pay. Good teachers want to make a difference in their students’ lives.
Class size matters. Teachers need time to listen to each student, acknowledge their interests, and make them feel valued. The Boise School District, with its ample tax base, has an average class size of 22 to 24. Teachers elsewhere may be dealing with 32 to 35; for secondary teachers, it can mean 150 or more students.
Student behavior matters. Theoretically, Idaho teachers may remove any student who prevents others from learning from their classroom. In reality, though, too many administrators may see a student in the office as a sign the teacher is failing.
Paul Boyce of the Foundation of Economic Education points out one more thing that matters–teacher autonomy.
Teachers thrive on using their own creativity and imagination to meet the needs of students. Students have less respect and are less motivated if they feel they are getting a canned course.
And education is being increasingly dominated by those who want teachers to be their robots. They want testing and accountability and control.
They don’t understand intrinsic rewards. They think teachers won’t work their hardest unless someone is telling them how bad they are.
And, when their changes haven’t worked, they’ve sought more control.
We must listen to Boyce, “In order to improve the quality of teachers, we must first empower the ones we already have.”
Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019