By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
One of the biggest problems we have in education right now is the shortage of teachers. This is true both nationally and in Alabama.
Today, fewer college students are enrolling in education courses. Eric Mackey, the executive director of the state superintendents association, recently told the Times Daily that there are about 40 to 45 percent fewer college students studying to be teachers than there were just five years ago, and that there are school systems in Alabama that do not have any certified math, science and special education teachers.
More and more, college students are looking at the teaching profession and saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
And who can blame them? Since 2008, public education funding in Alabama has been cut more than 20 percent per student. State leaders have eliminated thousands of teaching positions, resulting in larger class sizes, while cutting educators’ pay and now toying with the idea of cutting retirement, tenure and other benefits.
How can we get people interested in becoming educators when Republicans are undermining them at every turn? We cannot have education without educators! Yet, we continue to punish those who have stuck with the profession, as well as their students. Teachers have less one-on-one time with students, and now, the possibility of no defined benefits package and even more changes to the tenure system and pay scale.
Of course, then there’s the fact that educators haven’t had a true pay increase since 2008, and now Republican legislators are considering a pay raise just for teachers in certain fields.
The suggested changes to the defined benefits package alone complete undermine the work our educators do. State leaders have already removed educators’ association representatives from the board that oversees the retirement system. Republicans tried to replace the elected members of the board with their political appointees. The most recent blow is looking at doing away with the defined benefits package and replacing it with something similar to a 401k.
And even if Republicans weren’t waging a war on public schools and teachers, it’s hard enough to encourage young people to become educators.
As it stands right now, teachers make considerably less than other college graduates and certified professionals. In fact, on average teachers make around $14,000 less than those with certifications in other fields, like certified public accountants and registered nurses.
And it’s true that teachers don’t go into their profession for the money. But neither do nurses, and they still make considerably more.
According to a recent article from The Washington Post, civic-minded public servants coming out of college just simply aren’t interested in serving in public education. They would rather form advocacy groups, studying public health with plans to go home and give back to their communities, or prepare to become social workers because they feel they can accomplish more in these professions.
Current college student want to be “agents of change”—not a person who reads from a script and administers standardized tests all day, which is how they see what we have made public education become in this country.
We cannot afford to continue losing talented, motivated young people. Without educators there is no education. Is that what we want for the future of our children?
Unless state leaders start supporting public education instead of undermining it; unless state leaders start appreciating our educators instead of attacking them, we are just going to continue losing the best and brightest young people to other professions.
We must also make sure that state leaders do not undermine the work of our current educators. Right now, on average 30 percent teachers in America will leave the profession after just three years because they get burned out. By year five, 45 percent will leave. If we don’t support these hardworking people properly, that number will just continue to rise with fewer and fewer capable people coming in to replace them. We have to give our educators the support they need to be successful.
Successful teachers mean successful classrooms, which means successful kids. It’s that simple. If our teachers are not successful, then our children won’t be successful. We trust teachers with what is most important in our lives: Our children and their future. If we want the best CEOs or the best doctors, we have to pay the best rate for them. The same is true with educators.
Asking our teachers to do more with less for less money is unacceptable. Going after their retirement, paychecks and job security will only make things worse. We have to make education and attractive profession again, because our children can’t get an education if we don’t have any educators to teach them.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.