One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the screen adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s classic novel of the early days of the space program, “The Right Stuff.” In a scene where the bean counters at NASA are threatening to shut down the Mercury program astronaut Gordon Cooper makes this legendary statement, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers”
For those of you who are not science fiction fans, Buck Rogers was the first of many swashbuckling space cowboys, a hero of radio and movie serials in the 1930s and 40s. Cooper was right, nothing is ever accomplished without adequate funding.
A recent NPR news broadcast brought that message to the fore. There are currently 68 teaching openings in Teton County School District #1, Jackson Hole.
Teaching vacancies are a problem nationwide. At present, there will be an estimated 1.2 million (yes, million with an M) open teaching positions in the USA as school begins this fall. It is an issue that is growing to untenable levels and threatens the very fabric of American society.
Jackson has some of the highest teaching salaries in Wyoming, but even a salary approaching $100,000 per year isn’t enough to live in the Hole where the property is valued in terms of square feet, instead of lots, acres, or sections as the rest of Wyoming is metered.
The answer in Jackson for beginning teachers is to pack four or five into a single building, where they can share the $6,000 to $10,000 per month rent. The other option is a dangerous one involving winter travel over the often treacherous Teton Pass from Driggs, Idaho where many of the faculty at the elementary, middle, and Jackson High School staff live.
To the glittering urbanites that call Jackson home, it isn’t a problem. The wealth of the incoming seasonal migrants has jacked home and rental prices out of the realm of ordinary people.
I have a longtime friend who consults with construction companies in Jackson to demolish five to eight million dollar homes, so $50 to $75 million mansions can be built on the existing foundations.
Insane? You bet it is, and especially so for someone trying to teach in a Jackson public school.
The problem is far from an isolated one relegated to Wyoming’s answer to Las Vegas.
An ad popped up on my FaceBook feed last week seeking teaching applicants in Bend, Oregon. Oregon salaries are even higher than those in Jackson, but once again, teachers can’t afford to live in the avant-garde community of Bend. It is a dilemma.
When I took signed my first teaching contract in Lusk back in May of 1980, I was the runner-up in the hiring process among over 700 inquiries for the history and football, basketball, and track position, and the 180 or so that completed the process.
Their top pick took a job just south in Goshen County that paid $13,300, a full $300 more than I signed on for in Niobrara County.
The point is that there were tens of thousands of young college graduates looking for education careers in the 1980s. You’d be hard pressed to find any young person you know majoring in education today. Sure, there are a few elementary teachers who love small children that still look forward to their own classroom, but the sad news is that most of them will quit after three to five years and never return.
Why is that you might ask? Blaming the snowplow parents of today is the easy answer, but it’s just part of the crisis that is modern-day public education. Add unnecessary mandates, the usual idiocy coming from local school boards, state departments of education, and the geniuses at the federal level and you get a little better overall picture.
Starting this week, the local problem comes into view as the teachers in Fremont County’s nine school districts return for the fall semester. Rather than admitting they have excellent teaching and support staff on board, many of these districts will pummel their teachers into mediocracy with days, and sometimes weeks of inane in-service sessions to start the year. It is a process that has bewildered me since I first began to encounter it at Shoshoni in the late 1980s.
As former president of the University of Northern Colorado and Colorado US Senator Hank Brown once said, “The inclination of bureaucrats to create more bureaucracy surpasses the sex drive of the teenage male.” Hank was spot on in his assessment.
Politicians as usual have all the answers with none of the background knowledge to develop those answers.
The clueless governor of Florida, Rick Desantis, heir apparent to the equally ignorant MAGA crowd, has the answer to the rampant teaching shortages in his state. Desantis recently implemented a program that openly displays his revulsion for teachers, and the lack of respect his entire right-wing coalition has for the classroom in a decision guaranteed to force the education of Florida children backward at least two centuries.
In Florida, you can now become a fully certified classroom teacher by simply observing a currently certified teacher, one who gained that certification by completing a college degree, student teaching under a trained mentor teacher, and passing the PRAXIS exam. In just 12 short hours these woefully unprepared, unskilled people can begin preparing the next generation for dismal failure.
The program is only available if you’re a military veteran or the wife of a veteran. That’s right, 12 hours and you’re off to a career teaching little Jonny and Suzie to read. It doesn’t matter if you’re illiterate, a high school dropout, or have a college degree in another field, all you have to do is sit in a real teacher’s classroom for a couple of days and you’re a fully certified teacher in a state run by certifiable maniacs.
Its just another ploy to lead his followers into compliance, a little “wave the flag” with veterans, a group his party openly denies medical benefits too at every turn.
How being in the military, or the wife (note: not husband) of a veteran qualifies you as a teacher is logic beyond my ability to discern. Imagine if they extended that to all credentialed vocations, as in engineers, attorneys, and physicians.
I wish Florida would implement the same program for surgeons. Just watch a couple of operations and you’re fully certified to operate in any Sunshine State hospital. I’d add the caveat that those operations are only legal if they’re performed on a politician. Fair is fair as they say.
The teachers at your local school have returned recently to the campus or are on their way soon. They’re the last hope of the future generation, so please remember that before you throw a fit because you’re little darling got a B in math instead of an A. Snowplowing your kid to phony excellence may make you feel good, but in the end, your child will be a lesser person and you’ll add one more tire to the convoy of excellent teachers leaving the profession because of people just like you.
The solution is out there. Teaching was once a rewarding, noble profession, but the conditions outside the classroom have created a monumental problem that is not one created by the teacher.
As I often told my students, be part of the solution, not part of the problem.