Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Dear Donald, Don’t Make Teaching Even Harder

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — December 19, 2016 5 min read
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(Dear reader: Your faithful correspondent is suffering from OATS, a newly diagnosed disorder, and is taking mental health leave until early January.)

At the circus there’s a guy who follows the elephant with a shovel and a broom to clean up the poop so the smell won’t detract from the pachyderm’s tricks. Welcome to teaching in the land of Donald Trump. Here’s your shovel.

Let’s start with the reality that teaching is hard work, that not everyone can do it well, and that those who can are in short supply. That was the reality even before the need for shovels.

Those who want to bring market logic to public education largely ignore the market for teachers. People take jobs where they feel honored and challenged and where they think that they have a chance of success. They take jobs that allow them to marry, buy a house, and raise a family.

The Teacher Shortage

Teaching hasn’t been making the cut. Even before the Trump election, there was a looming teaching shortage. Enrollment in teacher education programs has declined by 75 percent. Now the shortage is plainly evident. A new Learning Policy Institute survey shows 83 percent of low-income districts in California are having difficulty recruiting teachers, and more than half of the wealthier districts are.

Charter schools are not immune. The Magnolia chain of charters in Los Angeles gained notoriety this year for recruiting teachers from Turkey. Green Dot, Aspire, and other charter chains are facing recruiting challenges, and some are offering cash bonuses and other incentives to sign on. Free agent teachers will likely turn out to be expensive. The thousands of Republican school board members from around the country won’t be thanking Trump for upsetting traditional civil service employment.

The ‘Trump Effect’

Then, let’s add the “Trump effect” on immigrants, legal or not. Extraordinary effort is being required of teachers to comfort and protect students. In Los Angeles, where 74% of the students are Latino/a, the district has set up counseling centers in each of its geographic district offices and in the offices of school board president Steve Zimmer. School Superintendent Michelle King sent a recorded call to parents telling them about the support centers and a new hotline [(866) 742-2273].

Los Angeles Times reporter Joy Resmovits quoted Van Nuys Middle School teacher Noemi Morales telling her students, “I’m not here to deport anyone.” “I’m on your side.” “I’m your advocate.” “I’m fighting for you.”

Hers is not an idle promise. The Los Angeles Unified School District—along with many other districts in the state—have declared themselves as sanctuaries. So, if you’re a teacher or principal in L.A., it’s on you. Have a nice chat with federal agents with badges and guns when they show up at your school.

Confronting Hate Speech

The stories of teachers confronting fear, racism, and bullying compound daily. The Southern Poverty Law Center surveyed over 10,000 teachers after the election, and 80% of respondents described heightened anxiety on the part of their students. Verbal harassment increased: slurs, derogatory language, and a cascade of incidents.

The most dramatic reports are of hate speech directed toward Muslims, grabbing or groping girls, and taunting Hispanics, but demonstrations of intolerance are also visited on white students. It’s hard to teach tolerance when the country’s leader is a bully.

While comforting students and combating hate, teachers are supposed to excite young minds with powerful lessons. As has been the case historically, U.S. students haven’t done well on international comparisons. The recent release of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results shows American students liking science but not improving in either reading or science since 2009 and declining in math. The Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) provided similar results.

No Plan to Increase Achievement

Trump & Co. don’t have a plan to fix this, and what they plan to do runs counter to the path taken by other countries which have been successful in large achievement gains. Privatization and unregulated charter schools have been the strategy of exactly zero of the countries that lead the PISA and TIMSS rankings, and of the countries that have made progress. These countries are distinguished by high standards, attention to results, and historic support for teachers.

Trump and his education secretary designee Betsy DeVos have vowed to “kill the federal Common Core,” but, of course, the Common Core isn’t federal at all and the new federal Every Student Succeeds Law forbids the feds from telling states what standards to use. I suspect that Trump and DeVos already know this, despite their apparent confusion about what the Common Core is. I suspect that they really want to kill high standards that will allow comparisons of schools across districts and states.

Real News Bad Enough

As if the real news wasn’t bad enough—a president elect who lost the popular vote by nearly 3,000,000 votes while being supported by Russian espionage—teachers are confronted by the need to help students distinguish between factual and fake news.

As Benjamin Herold reported, prior to the election more than 100 fake news sites were found, all supporting Trump, and in the weeks before the election “hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs” generated more Facebook engagement than the 20 major news sites, such as the New York Times and NBC News.

Teachers report that their students are having difficulty sorting out real from fake. Watch for a layering on of “media literacy” as a curriculum requirement.

If there’s a silver lining for teachers in Trump’s minority presidency, it’s in the abundance of teachable moments and the protection that tenure gives teachers to grab onto them. If the past month is an indication, teachers will have almost daily chances to help students understand bigotry, stereotypes, economic privilege, populism, truth telling, and personal responsibility, which the president elect seems not to understand at all.

So, grab your shovels teachers; there are lessons in the poop.

The opinions expressed in On California are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.