What has happened to education over the last seven years?
Seven years ago, Act 10 was passed as put forth by then newly elected Gov. Scott Walker to shore up a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
It did so much more than that.
The number of students choosing to teach as their profession had been decreasing across the United States for some years as well as Wisconsin, but this was a definite blow to the field of education.
More so than any other profession, education is the backbone of society. Parents want the best education for their children. The situation at this point is as bleak as at any time in my lifetime, which now spans nearly five decades in the field. As a teacher, then an administrator at different levels for the School District of La Crosse and then 10 years as the director of Educational Leadership at Viterbo University, I have witnessed first-hand the changes that education has undergone.
Student learning is the goal of all education. The classroom teacher is by far the biggest factor regarding student learning. The second most consequential person aligned to learning in schools is the school principal, but that is a distant second to the teacher. My point in this discussion is that if we want the best for our children, the best for our state and the best for the United States we need to have quality teachers in the classrooms. The problem since the enactment of Act 10 is that it did so much more than help eliminate a budget deficit, it drastically changed an essential component in every child’s lives.
Education is vital to the potential of each of our children, more so in the 21st century than previous generations. Previously the world was not as complicated as it is today. Today, the number of manual-only jobs is relatively limited. The vast majority of jobs today require a significant education. This certainly was not the case for my parent’s generation. The importance of education today is magnified by how complex our world has become.
What does that mean? It means that if we want the world to be kind to our children, we need to provide them with a good education. To obtain the best education we need the best and brightest among us as teachers. The problem is that we are not seeing a surge of young university students selecting the field of education as their profession. The question is, why aren’t students choosing to become teachers? We as a society need them. We need them at this time as much as ever.
So there is any number of reasons that young people are not choosing to teach as a career choice, and also why so many are leaving the profession after a few years.
First and foremost the reason many go into education — at least the reason I did, and any number of colleagues did — is that there is no better profession.
You go into the field of education to help our most precious resource — our children — become the best citizens they can be. It is your purpose as an educator. As a teacher, you are an idealist, and there is no better feeling than when you see the “proverbial light” go on in a student’s head. A great deal of patience is required, but every worthy teacher works incredibly hard trying to find ways to help students learn.
I look back on my life, and at times as a teacher, I probably neglected my children while working with someone’s child trying to find a way to ensure learning. So for many teachers, they leave there blood, sweat and tears in the classroom. Teachers don’t make a lot of money in comparison to many other professions, but for many of us our purpose — helping students learn — was a driving force, and because of it money was less of a factor.
Now to the point, why are fewer students choosing to teach as a career?
Well, there are several reasons, but one that came through loud and clear from Act 10 was that teachers not only didn’t deserve the benefits they were receiving, but they were also a reason for the state’s budget deficit. They didn’t deserve to have a union that would argue for their benefits, their salaries their job security. Teachers, the entire field of education was the reason for the deficit; their benefits were out of line. Every time taxes go up, especially property taxes, the field of education becomes the scapegoat for the average property taxpayer. I believe this is the single biggest factor as to why any number of young people are choosing not to become teachers. The profession has been bastardized by politicians for too long, and Act 10 was a devastating blow.
I hope that the damage is repairable. Education is too important for our children not to have some of our best and brightest in front of them. Too many people not in education think teaching is an easy job, with pretty nice hours and summers off. Educators work hard, preparing lesson plans on a daily basis, correcting papers, reading assignment papers, working outside of class time assisting students who need some additional insights and tending to any number of disciplinary issues that require meetings outside of the regular class time. There was seldom an evening that I didn’t sit down with a briefcase of papers to go over late at night so that students would have them back the next day. Also, many teachers put in extra hours searching for better ways to prepare a lesson, taking college credit at their own expense to become better at their trade. If I ever took a summer off, it was to work at another job to make ends meet. The hours are long, and today there are many more children who have behavioral issues that are significant. Solutions are difficult to find.
As a profession, education (teachers) need society’s support. Education needs assistance with raising the next generation of children. Education is for the common Good. If all of our children are to grow up to be good citizens and well-educated children, then all of us will benefit. Education needs all of us working together. Support our teachers and encourage young people to become teachers. It does “Take a Village to Raise a Child.” Let’s strive to rebuild the state of Wisconsin’s attitude toward teachers.