“Everyone – my family and friends tell me to switch out of teaching, but I’m going to stay in.” This admission from one of my students can bring tears to an adviser’s eyes.
We talk some more. Despite the overwhelming advice from parents and classmates, she understands that the next generation of kids will need good teachers.
After my current student teachers graduate this year, I will have just three left in the four-year pipeline. I ask a colleague at another Kansas university how many student teachers they have in preparation in chemistry. None. Physics? Zero. Biology? Two. This downturn is underway at colleges and universities across Kansas.
In the 1990s, all teacher education programs across the state produced nearly 240 new biology teachers, more than 125 new chemistry teachers, 115 new physics teachers and 62 new earth science teachers annually. By 2013, production of new science teachers in Kansas dropped to less than one-tenth those levels. What happened?
Science teachers are particularly repulsed by mandated curricula and the teaching-to-the-test focus of the No Child Left Behind law. I went from having 50 to 60 biology teacher advisees in the four-year pipeline and four to six student teachers per semester, to having just 15 students with one or two student teachers per semester last year.
Then, the Legislature ended state-mandated due process for Kansas teachers. Over last summer, many parents had talks with their college students. In some cases, families where the grandparents and parents had all been teachers counseled their offspring to find another field. And eight more students dropped out of my teacher-track last fall.
During this spring legislative session, every few weeks there has been another action that has reduced the dignity and respect for teaching, from raiding the pension system to petty quarrels over the Teacher of the Year Award system. With each legislative action, several more student teachers bailed.
It is not a marketing problem about salary. It is an attitude problem emanating from many state capitols, although Kansas is probably a leader.
According to Education Week, California “lost some 22,000 teacher-prep enrollments, or 53 percent, between 2008-09 and 2012-13.” While initial blame fell on the weak economy after 2008, the more recent rapid decline can only be attributed to the growing perception that teaching is becoming a poorly paid assembly-line job where teachers are blamed for all student failure.
Usually there is a surplus of elementary, social studies and physical education teachers. But at recent career fairs, administrators have walked away empty-handed. Last week our Kansas State Board of Education learned how administrators from other states were signing contracts with the few student teachers who were attending a southeast Kansas career fair.
They also heard that if the Legislature fails to renew the provision where teachers can return and teach after retirement, it will cost Kansas 2,000 to 2,500 teachers, exacerbating the teacher shortage (particularly in special education).
Even more devastating to our supply of future student teachers is the proposal by the Coalition of Innovative Districts to bypass teacher training and allow out-of-field and even non-degreed teachers into Kansas classrooms as full teachers. Why enter a job that is no longer a profession?
John Richard Schrock of Emporia trains biology teachers.