An Odious Place to Teach

Wisconsin’s benighted governor and supportive staff of Republican true believers succeeded, so far, in turning the state from one of the most desirable places to teach into one of the least desirable.

Union representation is now illegal, so teachers are vulnerable to the whims of administrators, which is why teacher unions came about in the first place. Teachers who had worked hard for decades to uphold the highest standards of teaching were publicly called “overpaid baby sitters”, wasting time in classrooms until they could collect “oversize retirement checks”. Education budgets were slashed. Teachers were expected to bear the brunt of the state budget mess.

Five thousand of them quit. What a surprise!

Many of those were among the best, the beloved teachers who had become good at what they do over decades in the classroom. When they looked at the situation, and at the financial burden they would be forced to bear, retirement right now was the only realistic option. Some just quit to do something else.

Wisconsin will now be forced to fill 5,000 vacancies. Do we suppose that the people who do end up standing before the class will be fully qualified? Hardly. Many will be among the weakest, because not enough teachers are graduating. Even the best of these will be inexperienced. Will there be enough of them, even counting the unqualified? Probably not. Class sizes will be increased to make up for it.

The situation in the other 49 states may not be quite as bad, but the fact is, the teaching profession everywhere is taking a hit from which recovery will not be possible for years. What that means is that, far from improving student outcomes, schools in the next several years will be hard pressed to maintain status quo. And what will that mean to the No Child Left Behind goals? If scores go down, teachers, schools, and the district are punished (which is stupid from the outset), which is all but guaranteed to make the next year worse yet.

Graduates in education have dropped 40%. The awarding of teaching credentials has dropped 35%. More teachers than ever have simply left the field because of the discouraging conditions.

In short, with enrollments that will increase in coming years, we have made the teaching profession from a modestly paid but satisfying career into a career that many people are leaving if they possibly can. The quality of our graduates’ education cannot but suffer in a time when everything possible should be done to improve it.

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