Tennessee has a crisis on its hands: teachers no longer want to teach here any more. We are in the midst of an acute teacher shortage, and it’s not going to improve anytime soon. At the beginning of this school year, classrooms across the state sat bursting at the seams full of students eager to learn and with no one to teach them.
While the greatest teacher shortage occurs in districts with the largest populations, like Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville, this is truly a statewide epidemic. Statistically speaking, roughly nine percent of teachers across the state each year either retire or did not return to their teaching position the following year. Tennessee, like every other state across the country, relies heavily on teacher preparation programs across the state to fill this void. The number of college students enrolled in these programs is easily available online, and the data should serve as a stark wake-up call to everyone.
In the 2008-2009 academic year, 12,890 students were enrolled in some type of teacher preparation program. That number increased to 13,280 in the 2009-2010 school year, and then the bottom began to fall out. Enrollment dropped by 1,200 students in the 2010-2011 school year, an additional 800 students the year after that, an additional 2,200 students the following year, and an additional 1,300 students the year after that. Since its peak in the 2009-2010 school year, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has precipitously dropped by 42% in just four years! Just barely over 4,000 teachers completed teacher preparation programs in the 2013-2014 school year, which is substantially below the roughly 6,000 teaching openings available in the state each year. To fill this gap, Tennessee desperately depends on teachers to transfer here from other states or leave their current professions and enter the education field as a second career.
As someone who has known since he was in middle school that he wanted to be a teacher, it pains me to see so many college-bound students choosing to major in other things. Given that teachers are the building block of a thriving society, it’s crucial to ask ourselves what is causing this problem, and what can be done to solve it.
What’s going on in Tennessee is the same as other states that are facing severe teacher shortages: schools and its teachers are underfunded, teachers’ tenure has been substantially weakened, teachers are subjected to unfair and inconsistent teacher evaluation methods (i.e. the TEAM rubric and TVAAS), there has been a sharp increase of standardized testing, and through the weakening of teachers’ associations teachers feel that they have lost their voice. Our state legislature has gone out of its way to attack public education, and it is not a coincidence that the younger generations have a difficult time envisioning themselves as teachers--especially with college tuition at an all-time high and Tennessee teacher pay comparatively so low.
This is a time of great opportunity for teachers and other concerned citizens across the state to turn this around, if we could only act in unison. First, contact your state senator and house representative. Tell them to fully fund the BEP, give teachers actual cost-of-living raises, restore tenure, reduce standardized testing, and allow workers across the state to unionize. We need more positive education bills to be introduced, and passed, in our legislature. If they refuse, then express your voice in a different way, by voting for someone else who will support public education. We are simultaneously in the midst of both a teacher shortage and an election season. Secondly, teachers need to stop ridiculing our own profession--especially in front of our own students. Yes, teaching is difficult, and it’s easy to become frustrated with the system and vent to our students, or our own children at home. Teachers, sometimes, are our own worst enemies. If we are serious about improving the education landscape, then that must also include advocating and promoting our own profession that we chose to enter. Educating young people truly is a wonderful and fulfilling career, and spreading that positivity will breed more positivity.