|America's Brain Drain: Where are our Teachers?|
America's Brain Drain: Where are our Teachers?by Matthew Spellman, City Year Providence '15, '16
“Hey Matt I haven't seen you since high school! What was your major in college?”
“I was an English major at Providence College!”
“Oh so you want to become a teacher! That's really nice of you to do.”
Over the past few years, I have become used to these words manifesting themselves in various ways and through different mouths. However, the underlying sentiment, although undoubtedly well-intended, has always felt the same to me: That teaching is not a vibrant or esteemed career, but rather a nice thing to do for people who don't have career options. During my service with City Year, I learned that my personal feelings were actually emblematic of a national sentiment. In the eyes of many Americans, teaching is not a valuable career or even a favored one. However, this begs a vital question: Why is this the case, and how can we, as individuals and as a country, go about changing the national perception of teaching, especially in a time when our kids need teachers the most?
According to a recent article and radio talk from NPR, teaching is at an all time low. Bill Mcdiarmid, the dean of the North Carolina School of Education, says “The erosion [of teaching] is steady. That's a steady downward line on a graph. And there's no sign that it's being turned around.” Mcidarmid sites that a possible reason for the decline may be based on “the strengthening U.S economy and the erosion of teaching's image as a stable career.” In addition to this decline of the public perception of teaching, journalist Eric Westervelt writes that the decline may be due to the “ideological fisticuffs over the Common Core State Standards, high-stakes testing and efforts to link test results to teacher evaluations” as well as the “erosion of tenure protections.” Through these remarks, Mcdiarmid and Westervelt paint teaching as a job on the decline due to the effects of the economic concerns, job stability, and the potential challenges inherent to the job itself.
However, in addition to these concerns, the issue of gender also plays a large role in the decline of teaching, particularly amongst male teachers. New York Times journalist Motoko Rich writes that “more than three-quarters of all teachers in kindergarten through high school are women, according to Education Department data, up from about two-thirds three decades ago.” Moreover, Rich states that “the disparity is most pronounced in elementary and middle schools, where more than 80 percent of teachers are women.” In the face of such data, it becomes startlingly apparent that women far outnumber men in the teaching procession, but why is this the case? Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, writes “We're not beyond having a cultural devaluation of women's work, so that if a job is done primarily by women, people tend to believe it has less value.” Taking this data into account, Rich writes that “with so few men currently in teaching, other men may be less inclined to view it as a desirable option.” In short, gender, and a sense of inherent sexism, may be preventing men from moving into the teaching profession, which is particularly unfortunate because our male students are deprived of potential role models.
The economy. The difficulty. Job Instability. Sexism. These, and surely many others, are some of the reasons why teaching is on a steady decline. So, how do we, as individuals and as a nation, help turn around the perception of teaching and re-establish it as a vital, rewarding and respectable career path? One simple way is to have teachers share their stories. We need to encourage our teachers to serve not only as educators but as ambassadors to the profession, who usher in others and guide them into teaching. We need to have teachers share their success, their aspirations, and the benefits which they get from teaching their students every day. We need to have our male teachers speak up about the benefits of their jobs, thereby eradicating the imbedded sexism associating with teaching and showing men that teaching is not only a viable job for them, but an essential one. If we do these things, we will serve as witnesses to teaching itself, fighting to restore the respect and honor that it so rightfully deserves in our society.
Westervelt, Eric. "Where Have All The Teachers Gone?" NprED (2015): n. pag. 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
Rich, Motoko. "Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?" The New York Times. The New York Times,
06 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
 Westervelt, Eric. "Where Have All The Teachers Gone?" NprED (2015): n. pag. 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
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Matthew Spellman is serving as an AmeriCorps Member as Team Leader for City Year Providence after previously serving in 2014-2015. He is a graduate of Providence College.