The social contract for becoming a teacher used to be simple. You knew you’d never make a lot of money. And there wouldn’t be many opportunities for advancement.
On the other hand, you could make a middle-class living, there would be annual raises, you’d have several weeks off in the summer, and the job security was good. The work was sometimes lonely, spent in the company of children. But you wouldn’t have a boss looking over your shoulder, telling you how to do your job.
Well, those days are gone. The money is no better, but the expectations are higher. You will be evaluated on the basis of your students’ test scores, and there will be intense pressure to ensure that all kids succeed. Politicians are coming after your job security.
So it’s probably not surprising that fewer young people are going into education – and that school administrators in Indiana and across the country are complaining about not finding qualified teachers. The number of first-year teachers getting licensed in Indiana has dropped nearly 20 percent in the past five years, and education programs at state universities have seen big declines in enrollment.
The situation has received enough media attention that Rep. Bob Behning and Sen. Dennis Kruse, the chairmen of the Indiana House and Senate education committees, called last week for a legislative study committee to investigate why fewer Hoosiers are entering the teaching profession.
“It would be helpful to receive testimony from experts and the field on why teacher enrollment and licensing are dwindling,” they wrote. “We believe it is important to have a plan … prior to the 2016 legislative session, and studying it during the interim could be a key component in crafting that plan.”
For teachers, the obvious response was, “Dudes, look in the mirror!” Behning and Kruse are arguably as responsible as anyone for policies that have altered the state of teaching:
- All Indiana teachers must be rated annually, with a significant part of their rating based on test scores. If they don’t measure up, they can’t get a raise and may risk being fired.
- Teachers are prohibited by law from bargaining over class sizes, working conditions and other aspects of their professional life.
- Lawmakers have done all they can to weaken teachers’ unions (and other unions) as a political force that can advocate for educators and education.
More significantly, teacher salaries have been going south. According to figures compiled by the National Education Association, Indiana teachers make 13 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than they did 10 years ago. That’s the second biggest drop in the nation.
Gerardo Gonzalez, who retired this summer after 15 years as dean of the Indiana University School of Education, told State Impact Indiana that low salaries are probably the biggest factor driving young people away from teaching as a career. But they aren’t the only one.
“We also need to recognize the valuable difference that good teachers make, and make it a more prestigious profession, not constantly criticize teachers,” he said.
At last word, state legislative leaders hadn’t yet decided whether to add the teacher shortage to the agenda of a summer study committee on education issues. They should. This is a complicated issue, and it may not be realistic to come up with a plan for addressing it by 2016. But the sooner they recognize there’s a problem, the better.