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Australia It’s a miracle America’s teachers show up to work at all

04:10  26 august  2022
04:10  26 august  2022 Source:   crikey.com.au

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Bags are packed. Buses are rolling. It’s back-to-school season in America.

Teachers are leaving America's education system in record numbers (Image: Adobe) © Provided by Crikey Teachers are leaving America's education system in record numbers (Image: Adobe)

Across the nation, 50 million students are filing into almost 100,000 public schools, as the era of remote learning comes to a close. However, the pandemic has left a glaring legacy: a nationwide teacher shortage.

According to the National Education Association, this year schools face a shortfall of 300,000 teachers and support staff. Stories abound of schools scrambling to fill vacancies by offering pay raises and signing bonuses, lowering qualification requirements, and shifting to shorter school weeks.

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There are no quick fixes to this crisis. The United States has 3.5 million elementary and secondary public school teachers. Each year about 300,000 of them, or 9% of the workforce, leave the profession. But the ranks of newly qualified teachers to replace them have been declining for the past decade.

Graduation rates plunged 20% over the past decade, leaving an annual deficit of 70,000 rookies just to replace those exiting. At the same time, more than 40% of new teachers depart within five years. This attrition rate imposes huge inefficiencies upon the education system, both because of the loss of experience and skills these teachers take with them, and the gaps left to fill with fresh replacements.

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Two years of COVID stress has only exacerbated the problem. Teachers are reporting record levels of job dissatisfaction, with 79% unhappy with their conditions. Key frustrations include insufficient pay, shortages of qualified teachers and staff, lack of respect and support, poor student discipline, limited tools to do their work, and increasing politicisation of education.

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Teacher shortages are not evenly distributed across the 50 states, nor are they uniform within states. States with greater per capita investment in education face fewer difficulties in attracting and retaining staff. This is compounded by America’s public education system being atomised among 13,000 independent school districts. Due to the role of property taxes in funding US public education, wealthier districts typically have better-resourced schools. Underfunded schools in poorer neighbourhoods are left scrambling to provide the basics.

Gradual disinvestment in public education over the past few decades hasn’t helped. Teacher salaries reflect this. In 1990, US average annual teacher pay was US$65,000 (measured in 2020 dollars). Thirty years later it was still $65,000. Zero change. In the same period, median US household income rose from $54,621 in 1990 to $69,560 in 2019 (prior to COVID impact), a 27% real increase. Teachers effectively went backwards while other workers shared in economic gains. Small wonder they are feeling the squeeze and struggling to keep up with rising living costs. That women comprise 76% of teachers underscores this wage gap.

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Despite this many teachers dip into their own pockets to purchase classroom supplies. On average they spend $750 of their own money to buy essentials for their students. This amounts to wage theft by forcing conscientious teachers to subsidise their schools.

As though declining pay wasn’t bad enough, teachers are constantly tasked to do more with less, and cop the blame when things go wrong. In a land where education is treated as a silver bullet to fix society’s ills and overcome all obstacles to personal advancement, teachers make an easy target. If grades are down, blame the teachers. If students misbehave, blame the teachers. If parents don’t like the syllabus, blame the teachers.

Always a political football, education has become ground zero in America’s culture wars. Inflexible curricula that provide little autonomy for teachers to conduct their classes. An obsession with standardised testing that has done nothing to raise students’ knowledge and skills while enriching a vast industry of private tutors and testing providers. Variation in performance owes far more to socioeconomic background than classroom instruction. But to admit this is to acknowledge structural inequities, and that doesn’t fly in middle America.

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Meanwhile right-wing “grassroots” groups such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education have unleashed a wave of attacks and lies upon local school boards, seeking to weaponise school fights to advance their broader political agenda. Book bans and prohibitions on mentioning LGBTQIA+ issues or critical race theory are designed to rile parents and win votes at the ballot box. Teachers are collateral damage in their crossfire.

Teachers also have to worry about school shootings. Active shooter drills have become a standard feature in American schools, a tragic indictment of the country’s failure to deal with the unchecked proliferation of firearms. The MAGA crowd’s answer is to arm teachers. As if they don’t have enough on their plate. Despite the danger, two-thirds of teachers believe their own schools are not prepared for an active shooter incident. The recent massacre in Uvalde confirms their concerns.

Notwithstanding these systemic handicaps, America’s teachers manage to educate their students to similar standards as Australia, New Zealand and Norway in reading and science, albeit with some lag in mathematics. One can only imagine what they could achieve if they were given the respect, support and autonomy to do their jobs properly.

America’s schools have many problems. None of them is the fault of its teachers. Teachers make an easy target for broader failures to properly value and invest in public education. Given everything they deal with, it’s a miracle they show up to work at all.

The post It’s a miracle America’s teachers show up to work at all appeared first on Crikey.

'Submit or quit': Teacher, student brain drain hits Hong Kong schools .
As Hong Kong students return for the new academic year, veteran teacher Wong is counting down the days until the political maelstrom sweeping the city leaves him no choice but to quit. "The students are leaving not because they dislike the school, but because of Hong Kong's environment."Wong, 34, fears he will soon join the exodus of teachers and students triggered by Beijing's tightening grip on Hong Kong, which has started transforming local schools, according to multiple educators.

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This is interesting!