During the last decade, Florida has stumbled forward into a Brave New K-12 World by implementing a series of “student-centered” reforms aimed at increasing student achievement. These reforms have been successful in reading at all levels and in math and science at the elementary level.
The state has also tried to transform the teaching profession so that “effective” teachers can be distinguished from those who are not and so that more of the state’s most talented individuals are attracted to the teaching profession. That effort has been less successful.
Given the state’s shortages of teachers – particularly teachers in math, science and special education – it’s time to try something different.
Let’s proclaim 2017 to be The Year of the Teacher in Florida, and resolve to ask the state’s best teachers how to recruit more individuals who are strong in their disciplines into the the teaching profession, and keep them there once they arrive.
If asked, I could come up with an excellent panel of physics teachers who could provide guidance on how to recruit more great colleagues in physics (and perhaps in math and chemistry as well).
But we already have some clues about what the panelists would have to say from the results of a survey that will soon be released by the American Physical Society. The APS worked with professional organizations in math, chemistry and computing to survey undergraduate majors in those fields as well as graduates now employed as teachers.
The practicing teachers said they find teaching, mentoring and making a difference in their students’ lives fulfilling. But those conducting the survey found that teachers were particularly discouraged by four aspects of their jobs: hostile and unresponsive administrators; salaries that are tens of thousands of dollars lower than they could earn in other jobs; excessive grading and paperwork; and, the sheer number of hours required to complete their responsibilities.
Many of the undergraduate majors who had considered teaching careers said they would be significantly more likely to chose those careers if they were offered financial incentives, including loan forgiveness, free tuition and salaries higher than those standard for teachers.
The APS conclusions about financial incentives are consistent with those found in a study by Feng and Sass of the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program, which was established in 1984 but terminated in 2010. Feng and Sass found that even the modest incentives offered under the program significantly decreased teacher attrition.
In 2017, let’s ask the state’s best teachers how to make things better.