Competing for Elementary Teaching Positions
“K-5 teacher overload: Too many trained, too few jobs” reports USA Today in a “General Grant Still Dead” kind of headline. The article points out that schools of education are training twice as many elementary teachers than there are openings. On the other hand, schools can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill math, science, and special education openings.
Tell me something I don’t know. These findings are hardly “news” to anyone who has been charged with hiring teachers over the last ten years. Suburban principals report 400-plus elementary applicants for a single opening. Even in my rural upstate school district we had nearly 200 applicants for elementary positions, even from newly certified teachers who never really wanted to live that far outside of a city.
Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) says that the problem is that colleges and universities don’t try to match supply and demand like other professions do. The NCTQ is a research and policy group based in Washington. Colleges respond that they don’t just prepare candidates for local or state openings, but for nation-wide markets. Both of these arguments seem spurious to me. What professional credentialing is market-driven? And what schools turn away tuition-paying students these days?
If you’ve never interviewed candidates for elementary positions, you might be surprised to know how many of them say they’ve always wanted to work with little kids, and teaching elementary school has been their lifetime dream. While they may have been able to find a teaching position in math, science, or special ed, they didn’t choose these fields for their life’s work. It’s not as if schools of education can easily guide students into fields in which they have no interest or no aptitude. Instead, many certified elementary teachers will take jobs as aides or assistants just to get their foot in the door and still be able to work with kids.
But what if …. What if education colleges limited the number of applicants accepted into a rigorous academic training program with hours of hands-on work in the field plus a lengthy internship? What if getting a place in the school of education was highly competitive? What if you could actually flunk out of elementary school training because the program was so academically and technically demanding? What if parents began to recognize how important it is for their kids to have outstanding and caring teachers at the elementary level? What if elementary teachers received signing bonuses because reading and math skills and attitudes towards learning at the elementary level form the basis of all later academic achievement? What if elementary schools felt lucky to hire a graduate of one of these select, rigorous college programs?
The good news is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there is likely to be a 17% increase in teacher employment in this decade, mainly in the South and West. The bad news is that few schools of ed will have adjusted their programs to attract the best and the brightest students.