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Monday, December 15, 2008

Just Wondering...

... why, when the economy fails, education is one of the first things to go.
Last week a public school teacher I know called in sick. Two weeks ago, standard operating procedure would be to call the subbing placement office and get someone to administer the teacher's carefully prepared emergency sub plans. Last week, due to budget cuts, there was no more money for subs. The class was split up into groups and dispersed among the other grades to do busywork in back of the classes. That's an entire school disrupted and 20 kids' day wasted.
It's not as if there's nothing else to cut. My proposal is here somewhere, but you will have to sit through my rant to get there. Sorry :-)
You may already know that I'm a teacher. An unemployed teacher. Why? Because the department of education is overstaffed. The teacher shortage is a myth. What's more, with the budget cuts firmly in place, schools are reluctant to hire highly qualified teachers because we cost more. Now, the union pay scale is a wonderful thing for ensuring that teachers don't get grossly underpaid, but this is where it backfires. Most of the people I know who are first getting their education degrees now have opted not to earn their master's degrees, even though they were originally planning to do so for professional development, because it would put them in a higher pay bracket before they've had a chance to make enough friends in high places. The higher pay for master teachers was originally instituted to encourage teachers to become more highly qualified. Whatever!
Despite this state of affairs, the department of education inexplicably continues to perpetuate the teacher shortage myth. Subway ads in prime locations wax sentimental about the joys of teaching in city schools. Adding insult to injury, Teaching Fellows continues to recruit career changers and pay for their graduate education and teacher certification. This means that instead of paying qualified teachers to do what they have always wanted and trained to do (on their own tab), they are paying unqualified people from a variety of other fields to teach kids and earn master's degrees of their own. Mind, these people would not pay for my master's degree, because I have always wanted to be an educator and this program is for career-changers.

OK, so why don't you punish people for their willingness to invest in the education of your children by making them struggle and pay for their certification while giving their jobs to people whose majors were in engineering or somesuch. Of course, if you do that you will have to provide them with mentors and support and all that, because after all they only had maybe twelve credits in education before they hit the classroom. You're also taking a gamble that they will cop out after the requisite two years (usually in your worst schools, a real turn-on), realizing that engineering really was their calling after all.
So here's your answer for keeping more money in education where it belongs.
First of all, cancel all those ridiculous subway ads, and give the space back to people who can afford it, like Bud Light. When demand for teaching jobs is high and supply is low, there is no need to advertise.
Secondly, cut funding for Teaching Fellows. You don't need to cut ALL of it, but a good lot can go. You don't need the teachers. You do need the money. So keep the money and let the career-changers pay at least some of their own way.
With the savings from the above, put qualified teachers in the schools that need them. This might cost money, but you do generally get what you pay for. I'm not saying all teachers in high salary steps are worth their salt, but for the most part they had to learn something to get there. You probably end up with more efficiency in the long run. And more achievement, because in education there are some concerns besides the money.
You know, I'd rather have a job and get a little less for it. Especially if it means that the money will be spent on education instead of subway ads. And that's just the one example I could think of offhand. There are innumerable other inefficiencies going on.


Anonymous said...

You have just crushed a little girl's dream of hoping she'd become a Public School teacher so she would eventually be able to support her husband (and save the word of illiteracy)

I hope you're satisfied.

Dave said...

A lot of this seems to be New York specific. Other parts of the country do have a teacher shortage, and one that is expected to grow.

Anonymous said...

You're unemployed? Awesome! So we can go away next Shobbos? really, I didn't totally miss the point of this post. :-) The public school system is not one of the things NY is very proud of. You illustrate why.

Bas~Melech said...

Sporadic -- Don't worry, there is yet hope. We need to talk...

Dave -- Many parts of the country have a teacher surplus, including most of the big cities. I am in touch with teachers throughout the states and most of them say the job market is tight where they are.
Don't know if other places have such stupid spending policies, though. I haven't heard of anyone else cutting subs before, say, materials.

B4S -- Where do you want to go?
And NY is actually fairly pleased with the public schools. Considering the unique challenges of urban education in such a big city with NY's high immigration levels, they are not doing too shabby at all. However, that is no thanks to the Department's spending habits and hiring practices, and is not necessarily correlated with teacher satisfaction levels.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

There are states looking for teachers

Anonymous said...

Usually the teacher shortages are for inner city schools (that come with a slew of challenges) or very specific positions, i.e. physics teacher. (mostly math and science). Like I heard somebody say, elementary school teachers are a dime a dozen, and if you hope to teach middle school social studies or language arts, you can forget it.

I teach outside of NY,and it took me over a year to find a job. I went for several interviews and would be told things such as, "We'll get back to you; we still have another 20 applicants to interview."

I lucked out and found a job at a really good school, but it was totally an instance of being in the right time at the right place (something new opened up literally the week before school started.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm graduating with a degree in Literacy with certification from birth-12th...hope I've got all my bases covered...

Got a great job teaching in the meantime...

Also, I'm not sure how it works, but I've read several articles that discussed teachers that can't teach because of some misdemenour or other, but they can't be fired (something to do with unions), so they just show up every day, sit in a room and do nothing and get paid for it...we need to get rid of those people so they can pay my working salary.

BB said...

There's a teacher shortage here in Israel. They're always looking for English teachers! Would you consider moving?

ProfK said...

One of the reasons why teachers can't get jobs in NYC and other large urban centers is a change in retirement patterns for many of the teachers already in the system. Years back teachers traditionally retired well before 65. They put in their 20-25 years, enough to qualify for their full pensions, and then many of them left the system, male and female alike. Whole slews of teachers were out by the time they were 50. In the 90s there was also a massive buyout offered twice to the higher tier teachers so that younger teachers who would cost the system less could be brought in.

Today, given the benefits and the salary rates, many older teachers are staying in the system rather than retiring fairly young. They need the money. And where older teachers are not retiring there is no room for the new, younger crop to come in. Add in declining school enrollments and you have less opportunity for teachers to find jobs.

But yes, if they have to cut money taking it out of the subbing budget is sheer lunacy.

Bas~Melech said...

Dave: Thank you for posting the link. Unfortunately, teachers are not so portable. First of all, not all states accept each other's licensing and getting certified to teach in other states is a pain -- Hey, you went through it all already in your home state, you want to at least get a job for your efforts! Secondly, contrary to popular belief, most teachers have some semblance of personal life and would not mind staying close to home base. Especially frum teachers, who would rather stay within a day's driving distance of kosher meat and a mikvah, when many of the shortages are in small communities or far-flung places.

Anon raises a good point about shortages being in specialty areas. Very true. Even many of the specialties are filled up, but if one is considering becoming a teacher it pays to investigate what's in demand.
And your experience of taking a year or more to find job is quite common. Which drives my point further home because today on my commute and ENTIRE subway car was papered with ads for teaching fellows, promising them "a job with full salary and benefits starting in Fall 2009." This bugs me because nobody is promising that to me, when I am a qualified graduate of an actual education school. And don't tell me they're all being placed in yucky schools, because I did my student-teaching under one in a school I would LOVE to work for. I was a senior in a four-year teacher preparation program; she was a second-semester teaching fellow. GO FIGURE.

Sporadic -- Literacy teachers seem to be a dime a dozen, too, but they are in high demand because literacy is so essential. Hatzlacha to you.
As for the teachers you mentioned, something definitely needs to be done to clean up the system, but I will tell you where this comes from. It is very easy for teachers to have a job or even their career ruined over something that isn't their fault. Incidents happen, kids lie, parents attack, and if you're the only adult in the room you don't have much defense. Teacher's unions pushed for these policies to protect qualified teachers from being fired unjustly.
What needs to be done now is:
a: improve the judicial system for teachers whose qualification comes into question. If someone is truly proven to have acted harmfully or irresponsibly, they should lose their license with no apologies and little severance. If someone is proven or all-but-proven to still be fit for teaching, they should be allowed back into schools on probation, perhaps in settings that are more collaborative (e.g. coteaching classrooms, where the other teacher can keep tabs on them)
b. The people who fall in between should be put to work. If they are being paid the same salary anyway, they should at least earn it and save you from having to pay someone else to do behind-the-scenes work. If you question their suitability for working with kids, then put them to work editing textbooks, organizing schedules, answering phones... something!

BB: I would love to live in Israel. But that doesn't answer the problem of why the folks in education are actively promoting a teacher surplus. (and I'm not an ESL teacher...yet. Thanks for the idea though, I am considering it as a specialization)

ProfK: While it is true that retirement is at an all-time low, teaching still has an extremely high turnover rate due to teacher burnout in the early years. Teaching has one of the highest burnout rates of all professions (in no small part because of all the problems at the administrative level!) and many switch careers within their first five years. So it should balance out somehow. And your point just underscores the stupidity of perpetuating the surplus.

So... 10 comments on one post. Does that mean you people want more rants/revelations about The System?

The Babysitter said...

I was actually just talking about this with my mother recently. I asked her how much she thinks crossing guards get paid, and she said minimum wage. I was so surprised to hear this, I thought it would be more. Then my mother said that in Europe they spend more on education, but in America they would pay more to sports and Hollywood. I thought about that, and it's just so sad that education, the most important thing, is getting so little money.

That's a shame that your loosing out because of them doing things that don't make sense.

Good Luck getting a job, and hope you'll be happy with it!

Sporadic: "that discussed teachers that can't teach because of some misdemenour or other, but they can't be fired (something to do with unions), so they just show up every day, sit in a room and do nothing and get paid for it"

I've heard of that. A friend told me a story where there's this lady she knows who teaches in a public school, and someone claimed that she had "touched" one of the students, when really she didn't, so they are just keeping her in a room and paying her to do nothing, because they can't fire her.

Bas~Melech said...

Hey folks, after ranting at you I figured I'd let you know that my recent research showed that I will only be paying about $1500 more for my MS.Ed. than a teaching fellow, and will get it faster, too. Which is nice to know, though the rest of my rant still holds. And I was very fortunate to get into that program; everyone else is probably better off with the fellows...

The Babysitter said...

Congrats on getting into the program!