Home > Uncategorized > Who wants to be a school teacher (or a fruit picker)?

Who wants to be a school teacher (or a fruit picker)?

August 13, 2015

Some of you may have seen the recent New York Times article entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional)As the title indicates, it turns out that not too many people are throwing their hat into the school teacher ring recently. And given the enormous turnover, this is bad news for the profession.

I’ve got a general rule about such headlines that I like to follow. Namely, whenever we hear about a “labor shortage” in a given profession, we should think about four things:

  1. Wages
  2. Conditions on the job
  3. Benefits, including retirement
  4. Cost/ length of training

So for school teachers, we might break it down like this:

  1. Wages – median at around $58K, has been rising a bit ahead of inflation if I’m eyeballing this graph correctly
  2. Conditions on the job – much worse in the past decade due to the Value-Added Model, and other Education Reform measures which remove autonomy and force teachers to teach to the test
  3. Benefits, including tenure and retirement – under relentless fire from gleeful Republican politicians
  4. Cost/ length of training – sizable, which means that it might take the profession quite some time to recover

When you take the above points together, you realize that it’s not a salary thing so much as an environment that has become toxic. A capable person, however earnest, would think twice before entering such an industry. This is particularly true right now, when tenure is on the chopping block but the salary hasn’t risen to compensate for the added risk.

Teachers, as a profession, are not so different from truckers, who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. We’ve got some skilled workers whose environments have been severely degraded, and whose salaries have not risen in response. Considering the fact that the economy is somewhat better, this means people are unwilling to go get trained and qualify for such jobs. Moreover, there’s a real reason in both industries to avoid lowering the barrier to entry; we don’t want illiterate teachers nor do we want dangerous truckers. The solutions are obvious: either make their lives better or give them more money, or both.

There’s one more profession that’s going through a “labor shortage,” namely fruit pickers (hat tip Tom Adams). This is because we have many fewer Mexicans coming in for work, and Americans are generally unwilling to break their backs for a measly $11.33 per hour median wage. This is somewhat different from the other industries, because there’s really no lower bar for training, and anyone willing to do the work is given a job. There are also no benefits or job security, and obviously conditions are horrendous.

Even so, the solutions are still obvious: make the job better or pay more.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 13, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Simple, isn’t it. But oh, no, it’s that the teachers do not understand the benefits of Common Core, high stakes testing, scripted lessons etcetera etcetera etcetera……


  2. August 13, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Actually the biggest impediment to becoming a teacher in NYC is the moving goalposts on the requirements to become a teacher, and those requirements, many of which in no way improve the quality of the teachers or their teaching skills, are being set by a combination of union leaders (Democrats) and state educrats (mostly Democrats).

    It’s far easier to become an adjunct professor than a high school teacher. Of course, it is hard to eke out a living as an adjunct.


  3. August 13, 2015 at 9:25 am

    I think there is a concerted campaign coming out of ALEC, Broad, DeVos, Gates, Walton, et al. to deprofessionalize teaching to the level of Walmart greeters who switch on computers in the morning and off at the end of the day, if we have brick-&-mortar envelopes for them anymore. As we speak, their plan is right on track, though there be some resistance rising in the ranks.


  4. August 13, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Maybe we should try asking the teachers. Here is one voice in the wilderness:



    • August 14, 2015 at 2:31 am

      So in the end, she chose to quit public school for better paying independent school with fewer students per class. Yet she insists that public schools are good and charter schools are evil? Reminds me of all the liberal politicians in favor of public schools [ for other people’s children], and back in the day, in favor of of busing [other people’s children], who chose to send their own children to private schools. There is a word for that.


      • Moeen
        August 14, 2015 at 7:39 pm

        There are different kinds of private schools. In fact, charter schools aren’t true private schools as they receive government funding, but are run independently. This is different from a truly private independent schools, which charter schools are not. So yes, you can rail against charter schools, send your kids to a private independent school, and not actually be a hypocrite. Try to get your accusations of hypocrisy straight here!


  5. August 13, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Reblogged this on Network Schools – Wayne Gersen and commented:
    As I mentioned in a blog post earlier this week there MIGHT be a silver lining to this if people applied some imagination: teacher credential programs could become two-year paid positions that would not only help prospective teachers pay for their college degrees but also serve as a means of providing in-the-classroom experiences that would be far more valuable that any college class. I know I learned more in my student teaching experience than I ever learned in any undergraduate or graduate class… and I daresay anyone who you talk with about their experience in teacher training would echo this sentiment. More here: http://waynegersen.com/2015/08/11/nytimes-article-on-teacher-shortages-doesnt-dig-deep-enough/


    • August 13, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      Well, as a college math teacher at CUNY I quasi-disagree with that. Considering that most of our job is remediating students out of the NY high schools with sub-6th grade math skills, my stab is that elementary and secondary teachers may not actually know the content of what they’re teaching (esp. in STEM subjects). I would agree that an education degree where the time is spent on teaching principles in the abstract sounds not worth it. But time in college classrooms mastering actual advanced content, so one can justify and answer students’ questions when they veer above and beyond the pedestrian curriculum, would be much more desirable. I was able to pick up teaching when I got in the classroom, but I would not have been able to fill in missing math knowledge if I hadn’t had my college academic program(s).


      • August 13, 2015 at 11:52 pm

        I have a large number of rude responses to this comment. Here is the closest to a polite one I can muster.

        As a secondary math teacher, I will be interested in your theories about how you were able to pick up teaching when you got in the classroom right around the point where you take yourself out of CUNY and bring your skills to the secondary schools where they are so clearly needed. In my experience, college professors who were “able to pick up teaching in the classroom” have a casual disregard for quality pedagogy and a persistent willingness to blame student failures on the students themselves or their prior teachers without considering their role as an instructor.

        I do have some concern about the lack of math specialists at the primary level, but only because so many primary level teachers are very open about their struggles with mathematics. Having these teachers teach new mathematical learners is a recipe for disaster. But I grow weary of people pissing down hill with little to know actual experience of the job of people below them or the constraints that govern that job.

        Lastly, selection bias is a real thing. It affects the composition of your student body. You might want to consider the students you aren’t seeing before you proclaim on what lower level teachers do and don’t know about mathematics.

        Well, only a little bit rude. I guess I will consider that a success and ac all it a night.


        • August 14, 2015 at 12:42 pm

          “I do have some concern about the lack of math specialists at the primary level, but only because so many primary level teachers are very open about their struggles with mathematics. Having these teachers teach new mathematical learners is a recipe for disaster.”

          I completely agree with this, well put.


        • August 23, 2015 at 7:08 am

          First off, I have to disagree that you can teach how to teach. Some people will never get it and some just have a knack. I’m sure there is a middle ground, but a recent study indicates that most professional development is a waste of time and money – and most teachers would agree. Second, advanced mathematics is useless and meaningless for the actual struggles that low-level kids have. Math is much more about thinking than doing abstract calculations, but the former is ignored and the latter is drab-boring and is what has been emphasized. However, trying to force-feed a solution via “common core” is only making things worse.


      • August 14, 2015 at 2:24 am

        I guess I’m a little confused. Subject matter knowledge is supposed to be a prerequisite before education school. A math teacher is supposed to have gained mastery over the subjects s/he will be teaching by having taken sufficient math classes in the math department in college. Engineering majors have to go through hoops to convince the credential evaluators that engineering math classes covered topics sufficient to teach high school math. Classroom control, learning styles, etc are where education schools are supposed to add value. Can you please clarify?


        • August 14, 2015 at 2:12 pm

          “Subject matter knowledge is supposed to be a prerequisite before education school.”

          This is false. Example.


  6. August 13, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    I am deeply suspicious of the claim that wages are rising faster than inflation. That certainly isn’t true across the board, and in the states where pay has been essentially frozen (all three of the states I have worked in over the last decade), hiring is particularly bad. Also, when salary finally does go up, health care and retirement contributions eat up all of the gains (if not more). I am much more interested in how take home has been trending, since increased salary that I get less of to actually spend is not actually a win.


    • August 13, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      Yes you’re right. And I have seen evidence that teachers are paying more for things like health care.


  7. August 14, 2015 at 7:40 am

    Even on a clear day you can’t see the ground for the ivory towers. Here’s another perspective from the trenches on the mass-manufactured teacher shortage:

    Were teacher shortages and eliminating credentials and veteran quality teachers the reform goal all along?


  8. EJD
    August 14, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Schools are such a hot-button topic!

    I appreciate the underlying perspective that jobs starving for takers probably have serious drawbacks.

    Another perspective I bring from Tech, in our industries these articles usually preceed another run for H1-B visas as salaries are rising.


  9. August 14, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    In a large country there will be a large fluctuation somewhere – so any news story can include anecdotes regardless of the overall numbers. It may even be that teacher numbers are going down somewhat — but does that amount to a “shortage”?

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics:

    During the 1970s and early 1980s, public school enrollment decreased, while the number of teachers generally increased. For public schools, the number of pupils per teacher—that is, the pupil/teacher ratio —declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985. After enrollment started increasing in 1985, the public school pupil/teacher ratio continued to decline, reaching 17.2 in 1989. After a period of relative stability during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, the ratio declined from 17.3 in 1995 to 15.4 in 2009. The public school pupil/teacher ratio increased to 16.0 in 2011. By comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was 12.5 in 2011. The average class size in 2011–12 was 21.2 pupils for public elementary schools and 26.8 pupils for public secondary schools.

    In other words, there are significant more teachers per student today than 40 years ago. How much has achievement changed? In reading, not really (there have been small gains in mathematics for ages 9 and 13, but not 17). By the way, the graphs for school spending per pupil (as opposed to pupils per teacher) are even more striking in how little achievement has improved compared to massive increases in spending.

    It seems likely to me that today’s students are different from the students of the 70s (for example, because more weaker students are staying in school, whereas before they would drop out), so the constant achievement may actually be a sign of some success. But are today’s students radically different from those of the mid-90s?

    Saying we have general shortage of teachers today amounts to saying there has always been a shortage of teachers. Do we really think so? Do we think that more (necessarily marginal) teachers would help? It doesn’t seem obvious to me that hiring another marginal teacher is better than giving the average teacher more students in his or her class.


    • August 15, 2015 at 2:34 am

      Student/teacher ratios are notoriously susceptible to gaming. Specifically, districts with low student/teacher ratios are generally viewed more favorably, so staff that is not primarily instructional staff are often included in those numbers. In many districts, a teacher is anyone with a valid teaching certificate, regardless of their position. As the NCES data demonstrates, it can also vary pretty substantially from average class size, which had a much greater impact on learning.

      School spending per pupil is an even worse metric for evaluating school effectiveness. Over the years, schools have been made responsible for an ever increasing array of services, each of which costs money. Increasingly, funds provided to schools are below the line, which means that they are earmarked by departments of education and/or legislatures for very specific purposes. Discretionary spending in schools has shrunk to almost nothing. Extras to spend on supplementing curriculum and programs is often very limited as well. Schools aren’t cutting electives like theatre and music because they are flush with funds.

      Lower student/teacher ratios don’t mean we don’t have a shortage. Not being able to hire teachers needed to fill positions means we have a shortage. The two are related, but not identical. And as a teacher running high student counts yet again because we can’t fill all our positions, there is a load of difference between hiring another teacher and piling kids on existing ones until they burn out from excessive load.

      “I don’t see why we would run this electricity through the house on separate wiring. This larger cable can handle the load as long as we jimmy the breaker. See, everything is running. Stupid electricians.” Cable overheats and house burns down. “Huh. Who coulda knowed?”


  10. August 15, 2015 at 10:28 am

    How I saw the Big Picture a few years back —
    Seems to be getting more timely all the time …

    The Place Where Three Wars Meet


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