Facing the most severe teacher shortage in history, with record levels of dissatisfaction in the profession and an acute shortage of racially diverse teachers, it’s almost ironic that we are exacerbating the situation by allowing politicians, business owners, and parents to tell teachers not only what they can teach but how they have to teach it.
The National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) latest survey results show that, as of August 2022, 53% of all public schools reported feeling understaffed entering the 2022–23 school year, and 69% reported too few candidates as the biggest challenge to hiring teachers.
A recent survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) found that in 2019, US colleges awarded fewer than 90,000 undergraduate degrees in education, down from nearly 200,000 a year in the early 1970s, and that in the last ten years alone, the number of people completing traditional teacher-prep programs has dropped by 35%.
Even more disturbing, the survey found education to be one of the least diverse degree programs. Although 55% of US students are not White, nearly 70% of prospective teachers are White, the AACTE analysis found. In 2019, the only degree program with less diversity was agriculture.
The lack of diversity among prospective teachers is not only the mathematical cause of the overall teacher shortage, it is degrading the quality of education all of our students receive. All students benefit from having teachers of color. While minority students have higher test scores and increased enrollment in advanced classes when their teachers look like them, White students also show improved problem-solving, critical-thinking skills, and creativity.
Of course, money plays a big role in career decision-making and teacher salaries do not compare to those in professions requiring similar qualifications, despite some recent progress in certain states. Still, respect for educators, recognition of their expertise, and trust in their judgement will encourage graduates, especially those who want to make a difference in society, into the teaching profession, and may even result in recognition that they deserve better pay.
US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently said there should be greater engagement of educators in devising education policy, along with opening up avenues to advancement within the profession through “master teacher” roles and increased teacher leadership opportunities.
At the same time, ambitious politicians are pandering to populist fears of “indoctrination” and threats to the status quo by banning books and curricula as well as dictating how teachers teach. Manipulating parents against teachers may boost polling numbers in the short term, but it undermines our public school system, the foundation of this country. Any legislation that stipulates how teachers perform the profession in which they’ve been trained is demeaning to the profession as a whole and sends a clear signal to anyone contemplating a career in teaching that their opinion, even when it is expert, will not be valued.
To build upon the progress being made in recognizing endemic inequity and working toward overcoming it, we need the current cohort of students to be educated by racially diverse role models who are respected and trusted to teach in the best interests of all their students.