The teacher shortage and New Year’s Resolutions

Christine Marsh Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom

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I’m generally not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I believe that if someone needs to make a change, he should make it. Period. He shouldn’t wait for a new year to do so. Need to get more exercise? Well, start doing it, now—not on January 1st. And keep doing it.

However, I also realize that having a definitive start time for a new goal is powerful for some people. A New Year’s Resolution provides a little extra push to get starting on a goal that one is reluctant to face.

For those of you who don’t know this, the nation is facing a teacher shortage of almost crisis proportions. The impact of the shortage is having untold consequences on our state’s children.

Any time something impacts children, I get very concerned. We all do, I suppose. The underlying question that guides most teachers is this: “What’s in the best interests of kids?” I know it guides my school, my department, and certainly my own classroom. Teachers almost always put the needs of their students above their own.

However, doing that takes a toll and may be contributing to the teacher shortage, which will take an even bigger toll on our children.

It’s a catch—22…teachers care about students so much that they put students’ needs above their own, which causes some teachers to not make it long in this profession, which causes an even more destructive impact on children.

So I’ve been thinking of small ways  (and one big way) that the state and districts could help teachers protect themselves a bit, which will ultimately protect our children, too.

The bottom line is that we need more teachers to stay in the profession longer, so here are some resolutions that might help with that.

No bladder infections in 2017: Each school should proclaim that no teachers will get a bladder infection in 2017. When teachers need to pee, they should do so, even if it means other adults have to roam the halls to babysit a teacher’s classroom as she’s at the bathroom. How could this happen?…I’m not sure—maybe a crew of parent volunteers who go through hallways, looking for teachers who need three minutes to take a pee break.

No sick teachers at school in 2017: Each district should proclaim that teachers should not come to school sick. Do I even need to delineate why teachers shouldn’t come to school sick? However, many do because there are not enough subs to go around.

Little-to-zero of teachers’ own money spent on teaching supplies: The state should allot districts money for individual needs of classrooms, making the resolution be something like this: The state does not want teachers to spend more than $100 of THEIR OWN MONEY on classroom supplies. For example, last week, I spent $14 on an Amazon book order, because I am short a few text books, which the district cannot order because the books are out of print. I can buy them on Amazon “Used Books” section, though, so I got three books for $14. To be fair, I could have asked the parent group to buy the books, but that takes a great deal of time, and I needed the books quickly.

A Limit to the number of extra hours teachers must spend: Each district should be realistic about the accumulation of hours that teachers are responsible for outside of their own teaching, planning and grading. Someone at the district level should count the number of hours that each task takes a teacher to do and then limit the number to something reasonable (three hours per month, perhaps).

No parental attacks on teachers until the parents hear the full story: Honestly, I rarely get attacked, but that’s because I’ve been around for so many years and now I’m teacher of the year, so parents give me the benefit of the doubt. That’s not always the case, though. Parents, please talk to your child’s teacher before calling the principal or sending an angry email to the teacher. Maybe you’ll still want to contact the principal, but give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, just as we (teachers) try really hard to give our students the benefit of the doubt.

This one is the most important (and far-fetched) of all of them:

Fund our schools at close to the national average: State legislators should make it a resolution to get out of the bottom of the nation’s barrel in terms of funding. I’m tired of being #48 in the nation. I honestly don’t know how some legislators sleep. Are our children worth less than other of the nation’s children? I hope the answer to that is “No,” but actions indicate that people in this state do believe that our kids are worth less.

Actually, THIS one is the most important:

Make it so that 2017’s resolutions could be focused on making things better, rather than on just making sure things don’t get worse.


Christine Porter Marsh

Scottsdale, Arizona

My favorite thing about teaching is watching the lights go on in students’ eyes, watching them getting passionate about traditionally boring things like reading and writing well. This is why I keep coming back. I am in my 24th year of teaching in the same high school from which I graduated, and I still feel like it’s the best job in the world.

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  • Angela Buzan

    The “No Bladder Infections” line is hilarious and sad. Funny for me in high school because my kids are old enough to drive cars and my classroom is lucky enough to be fifteen feet from a restroom; terrifying to imagine having the ones you’re still teaching to spell their name and being on the other side of campus.

    The specificity of the $14.00 book is so important. It really doesn’t seem like that much, but those are the tiny things that add up over the course of the year. And, of course about an hour’s pay. Eesh.

  • Angela Buzan

    Also, I love the tag line. Worth the follow up question: if a five-year-old and a felon were (theoretically) sitting side-by-side in a room, for whom would you give the larger investment? Spoiler: in this state, it’s not the innocent one.

    • Angelia

      This paints a terrifying picture!

  • Sandy Merz

    Yep, any one of these would make things better, not just not as bad. Any few taken together would begin to change the landscape. I will push back (of course) on one thing. We don’t have a teacher shortage, we have an open-position crisis. Every open position could be filled with a qualified teacher who has left the profession because of working conditions and climate. The talent is there but it’s moved on.

    • Angelia

      This is very interesting Sandy! I have never thought of it in this way. Thank you for sharing this shift…

    • Jess Ledbetter

      I agree with Angelia! I like the way that this phase could shift the dialogue. It IS an open-position crisis rather than a teacher shortage! I’m amazed by the sheer number of qualified, talented individuals leaving the profession each year. Thanks for this new branding, Sandy! I’m using this term going forward.

      • Sandy Merz

        I first heard it expressed this way from Andrew Morrill. Gotta give credit, huh?

  • Angelia

    These sound like great resolutions. I am intrigued by the chasm that exists between the respect that our parents have for educators/education and the respect for the profession held by stakeholders at large. I hope that these climate improvement recommendations go noticed by those who control them!

  • Jess Ledbetter

    My favorite line (though hard to choose): “Teachers care about students so much that they put students’ needs above their own, which causes some teachers to not make it long in this profession, which causes an even more destructive impact on children.”

    I think you’ve nailed it there. Teaching is a great profession, but it’s so terribly hard to sustain. Teachers go year to year saying “Next year, it will be better.” But the next year, they are forced to change grade levels, adopt a new curriculum, adapt to new leadership changes, etc. You can only go so many rounds like that.

    Two points you mentioned that resonated with me the most: (1) the idea of decreasing the personal funds teachers spend on their classrooms and (2) having parents treat teachers with more respectfulness. I have personally experienced a huge improvement in both of these things this year, and it has made a tremendous difference for me.

    In my current school district (new to me this year), I have a $500 monthly preschool budget. Did your head just spin? Mine certainly does! Disclaimer: I have to be self-sustaining, including buying things like tables and chairs–and I have to find a way to make all these purchases, often on my own personal time. However, it has been so empowering to have the money to go buy paint when I need paint! This is my first year with our new curriculum, so it’s really helpful to have the opportunity to purchase materials that support my students’ interests and the curriculum topics. LIFE CHANGING! All teachers deserve this kind of respect. In fact, I’m planning to blog about that in the future.

    Second, I switched from a relatively low income community to something in the middle. And I haven’t been yelled at by one parent this year! I had really underestimated the way that unpredictable parent attacks demoralized me as a professional. Yes, I’ve been yelled at, pushed, and attacked through emails and phone calls by parents in the past! And no, I don’t think that I deserved any of that treatment. I’ve been 100% dedicated to kids and families in every step of my 12 year career. I think that a big part of increasing the positive interactions between parents and teachers is shifting the negative media dialogue that demoralizes teachers and makes parents think that teachers are deserving of maltreatment. Also, our lowest income districts have the most teacher turnover and parents stop trusting in the professionals that work there (my hunch). We have to increase the stability in all of our schools by improving working conditions for teachers.

    Great blog, Chris!

  • Mike Vargas

    I love the NO Parent Attacks resolution. I know I am very fortunate to have a caring and pro-active front office that gets the job done. However I know many of friends in other districts do not. It should be state policy you have to speak to the teacher first whenever their is a conflict. Unfortunately, a lot of parents today don’t feel that speaking directly to the teacher is enough for them. A pecking order of conflict resolution makes it easier on everyone in my opinion.
    Christine, I loved this blog and the big article you wrote two weeks ago.
    We need to educate the public on how bad the current situation is.

  • Mike Lee

    I love the “no attack” idea. Beyond that, I’m amazed at how much a single community member can disproportionately drain a teacher, principal, or district administrator. Importantly, I encourage parent involvement and am not speaking of a parent advocating for their child through normal channels and perhaps identifying when a school is not following policy, law, etc. Beyond those normal engagements however, there are those who I’ve often thought should be restricted to the Kagan “talking chip” model. They get x amount per year, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. I joke, of course, but it does feel like many of our deserving parents don’t get the time they deserve with staff at all levels because so much is dedicated to complaints that everyone in the community deems inappropriate or not based in the reality of the situation. I know it’s an un-solvable issue; how would you draw the line without restricting legitimate channels and opportunities, but one can dare to dream, right? Great post..

  • Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I agree with “no bladder infections”! Our school is fairly recently remodeled… and the teacher bathroom is on the other side of the school from our wing. We use the student bathroom out of necessity. Probably not a great practice, but there is no other way. When it is out of order… ay, ay, ay.