By Jerry Kremer
As a college administrator for 30 years, I have closely followed trends in higher education. I’m glad to see that many of our institutions are introducing new courses that reflect the changes that are happening.
There are many jobs for engineers, and many schools, like Hofstra, have created comprehensive programs to attract engineering students. But I never anticipated that there would be a critical shortage of teachers, and many colleges no longer have programs to train new ones.
Why do we have such a national shortage? Unfortunately, there are too many reasons. If you follow the news, you will learn that the state of Florida needs 8,000 teachers, but no one is rushing to work in the Sunshine State. Politicians, not colleges, caused Florida’s dilemma.
Florida has passed several laws governing what can be taught in the classroom, and many school boards are asking residents which books they want removed from library shelves. These requirements alone would discourage a teacher or any student from considering pursuing a degree in education.
Fearing for their personal safety, teachers and education students are also fleeing states such as Texas. Since the recent Uvalde tragedy, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed, some state officials have suggested teachers bring a gun to class.
Why would a college-bound student consider teaching a profession if he had to take firearms training to qualify for a job? Additionally, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is suggesting revisions to the school curriculum.
The salary level across the country is perhaps the biggest deterrent to potential new teachers. If you live in New York, Massachusetts, California, or Alaska, the starting salaries are attractive enough for potential candidates.
But Missouri, for example, has an average starting salary of $33,200, and the legislature has failed to appropriate new dollars to raise it. Because salaries in some 14 states are so low, teachers are forced to take second jobs to survive.
A National Education Association The 2021 survey found that the national average entry-level teacher salary is $41,000 and experienced teachers earn an average of $64,000.
An article by Emily Tate in the March issue of Mother Jones magazine highlighted the growing number of teachers working second jobs. The reporter interviewed 30 people, all of whom worked in gigs such as bartenders, delivery services, tutoring, Lyft or Uber drivers, retail salespeople and real estate agents.
Many interviewees found their jobs interesting and challenging, but admitted that having to work after hours and nights interfered with their mission to prepare for the challenges of the classroom.
Some observers would say there’s nothing wrong with teachers looking to supplement their incomes, but others would say teachers shouldn’t be forced to mark homework at 2 a.m.
Many years ago, I was asked to represent a Long Island school board in its negotiations with the district teachers’ union.
While some current trading tactics may have changed, the discussions I had had soured on me to do such work in the future.
The school board asked for an extra 30 minutes a day to help students who were falling behind and needed extra help. In addition, he proposed that starting salaries for new teachers be increased by 10%. These demands were rebuffed and the only discussion on salary was how much to pay teachers with 10 or more years of service.
Unable to find teachers, a number of school boards in Indiana and Ohio recently announced that they would accept anyone with a college degree to teach in their schools.
The deeper you dive into the national teacher crisis, the more you learn about why high school graduates are turning their backs on a college education and one of our society’s most important jobs, and why experienced teachers are taking their large numbers retired.
America has its priorities messed up when it comes to the teaching profession. A young baseball player drafted into the major leagues earns hundreds of thousands of dollars and can additionally be richly rewarded with bonuses and long-term contracts.
Is it asking too much to pay new teachers a decent salary? I don’t think so, but apparently many governments across the country have failed not only the teaching profession, but the children as well.
Jerry Kremer was a member of the State Assembly for 23 years and chaired the Assembly Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now runs Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Any comments on this column? [email protected]