I have been in the public education field for the past 46 years and the teacher shortage situation in Illinois is the biggest single threat to democracy and public education that I have ever encountered. I know this is an extreme statement, but I have been thinking about this problem for several years and have resisted speaking or writing about it. The reason for reluctance in addressing this topic is that I do not think there are any good short or long term solutions to the problem, yet.
Several years ago I was on an ISBE committee that was dealing with educator licensure issues. Upper level ISBE employees, at this time, thought we had too many individuals who had administrative certifications and that the teaching field needed to contain more qualified individuals. Several of us on the committee warned these ISBE individuals that making the requirements more difficult for teachers and administrators could cause problems down the line. Our pleas went unanswered, and state teacher and administrative licensure requirements were made much more difficult.
Concerning the issue of teacher certification (it is now called licensure), prospective teachers are required to pass a basic skills test (TAP). The probability for teacher candidates to pass this test is unbelievably low. The average passage of prospective teachers on the TAP is 17%. This is probably due to prospective students taking the test several years after having any formal math education and the high "cut" score for the math portion. The math score required is comparable to earning a 26 on the math portion of the ACT.
EdTPA has required teacher candidates to spend more money to receive a license and adds another dimension to the teacher preparation program. MAP grants have been greatly reduced and many students cannot afford to finish or even begin their schooling. Middle School licensure has drastically changed, with teacher candidates facing obstacles to obtain both middle grade and high school grade licensure. Licensure for kindergarten teachers is now separate from an elementary license and further erodes the candidate's ability to be flexible when looking for a teaching job.
Another major factor is the change in the teacher retirement system. Most educators do not go into teaching thinking about retirement; however, retirement benefits have in the past been very good with automatic three percent increases every year. Now, beginning educators basically have to fund their own retirement.
Probably the biggest factor influencing high school graduates to not want to become teachers is the opinion of their parents (especially parents who are teachers). Teaching is not regarded as a positive profession by many parents. It is not a potentially high paying career and, with constant public and governmental pressure that public schools are failing (except for their own school district), young graduates are seeking other careers. The testing of students and then the governmental ranking of schools according to those student results communicates failing schools and failing teachers.
Funding of Illinois public education has also been a major factor. Illinois prorated funding for public schools for several years and just last year and this year have added revenue to public schools under the Evidence Based Funding formula. Because of the lack of funding, class sizes have increased in most schools at the same time students are coming to school with more and more social and emotional issues.
I do not have a solution; however, I do believe that all interested parties need to come together to arrive at a solution. This is not administrators against teachers, this is not about increasing taxes on retired citizens, this is not about politicians' special interests, this is not about unions vs no unions, this is not about high property taxes or any other aspect affecting public education. This is about honoring and supporting educators to be respected citizens in our democratic society. Illinois citizens (as well as US citizens) need to stop pointing fingers and refusing to meet and arrive at common solutions. We instead need to meet, confer, listen, collaborate and problem solve. The future of our state and nation depend on it.
It usually takes a catastrophe for people to act. In my opinion, the teacher shortage problem in Illinois is a catastrophe. We need to be meeting now to discuss potential solutions. If we do not arrive at solutions for Illinois citizens we will continue to further divide the societal classes. The rich will turn to private schooling that they will pay for themselves, and the poor will be left with a huge shortage of teachers.
Tip of the Week
Have you written a positive note to a staff person this week? Have you written a positive note to a student or a parent? Get started now, make it a routine. Write one positive note per day to one person.