Recent teacher strikes and demonstrations across the U.S. have made it clear that many teachers believe they are undervalued, both financially and in terms of societal respect. And surveys show that many teachers are also feeling frustrated and stressed from too many mandates and too little support.
As a perhaps not-too-surprising result, it was clear even before the recent protests that recruitment and retention of teachers was spiraling downward for lots of reasons. Attrition is happening at every stage of the career path: Too few people are entering the profession, particularly in high-need areas such as math, science, and special education. And of those who do sign up, too many leave, too quickly—unable to resist the allure of doing, well, just about anything else
And what about quality? Even if we could snap our fingers and make teacher shortages a thing of the past, would the new teachers we recruited (and/or the existing teachers we persuaded to stay around) be the best available? Or just the best we decided we could afford?
We need to bolster the teacher pipeline, and soon. ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine devoted its May 2018 issue to exploring this topic, with articles and columns on new trends and models for preparing, supporting, and retaining teachers. In the magazine’s Research Matters column, author Bryan Goodwin (McREL’s CEO) looked for best practices outside the U.S., and found a system- and society-wide approach taken by Finland that firmly established teaching as a desirable, high-status, well-compensated profession.
It wasn’t a quick fix, nor was it easy. Rather than leaving it up to individual regions or school areas to develop and enact changes, Finland as an entire country took a long-term, multifaceted approach that addressed:
- better pay;
- more rigorous criteria for candidates seeking to enter teacher prep programs;
- higher standards within teacher prep programs;
- and, once they enter the profession, increased autonomy for teachers regarding instructional strategies and use of time.
The takeaway, writes Goodwin, is that it took all of these approaches applied in concert, over time, to work. To truly bolster the teaching profession in our own school systems, it’ll take a combination of new policies and conditions, and the fortitude to stick with it.