As a former public, private, and charter school teacher at multiple grade levels, I’ve experienced the gamut of classroom experiences that the American educational system has to offer. And unfortunately, given my personal experiences along with those of others and the available research data, I’m obliged to give the currently existing system a failing grade.
I’m not alone in this assessment, as more and more teachers are doing what 43-year-old former Oklahoma fifth-grade math and science teacher Sara Jorve did: leave the industry. Pay and working conditions got so bad that Jorve eventually switched career tracks entirely, getting additional training to become a cardiovascular ultrasound technician.
“I had to quit for my sanity” was Jorve’s stated reason for regretfully leaving teaching – a profession that makes a free and civilized nation and world possible, yet is grossly undercompensated and underappreciated in the United States. After devoting a dozen years of her life to teaching, Jorve reported that her pay was so low that she was forced to rely on her parents for financial assistance.
While American politicians claim to respect educators, U.S. high school teachers’ salaries are among the lowest when compared to peers with similar education levels in other developed nations:
Courtesy: OECD, weforum.org
Few Americans would believe that American school teachers are paid less than their colleagues in Chile or Estonia, but it’s true. It’s one of primary reasons that public school instructors in the United States are quitting the field altogether, seeking better conditions in industries that might not fulfill their drive to give back to the next generation, but will at least put food on the table.
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Yet it’s not just about higher pay: public school teachers in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have been walking out of classrooms picketing not only for better wages, but for more manageable class sizes as well as increased funding to improve dilapidated facilities.
And the teacher revolt is likely to continue unabated into the new year, with rally activity ramping up in the first month. In Los Angeles, the nation’s second biggest school district, approximately 31,000 teachers are planning to walk out on January 10. Smaller-scale rallies are planned in Oakland for January 12 and in Virginia for January 28.
Unrest has even struck the charter school subsector, as Chicago teachers staged the first U.S. charter school strike in December. Meanwhile, government data indicates that other education industry employees, including community college faculty, school psychologists, and janitors, are quitting at the fastest rate on record.
Another exacerbating factor is the decrease in the reported unemployment rate since the financial crisis, which has encouraged disgruntled American workers in a variety of occupations to seek better working conditions in other fields. But it’s been more pronounced in the education field lately, with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting that public school teachers have been quitting in 2018 at the highest rate since they started keeping records in 2001.
The issue goes beyond whether states and districts ought to increase teacher pay; there’s much more at stake here. Regardless of where we might choose to place the blame, the looming specter of a teacher shortage is bad for the schools, the children, and the nation.
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