The reason behind the teacher shortage


Many teachers at CCCHS have pride in their work, but few get the recognition they deserve.

Makenna Orrick, Feature Editor

The teacher shortage crisis in Tennessee is real. Could the over-regulation, feelings of unappreciation, or lack of sustainability be the reason for the steady decline in teachers?

As the first nine weeks come to a close, the Coffee County School District still has 18 teaching positions waiting to be filled. Finding enough substitutes to cover all the schools is hard enough, much less finding a certified and willing teacher.  

Coffee County Middle School 6th-grade math teacher Malaysia Pack states, “We currently have two teaching spots that haven’t been filled, so that’s two groups of students who don’t have one of their core teachers. We also have a huge sub shortage. Often times we don’t have enough subs to cover a teacher’s classes, so we have to use our own planning times to cover those classrooms.”

No one wants to become a teacher, but why? Teaching went from being one of the most desired fields to having an eight percent turnover rate. 

“It used to be different,” Middle school science teacher Janet Orrick states, “You used to be able to actually teach the kids in ways you saw to be effective and dive deeper into subjects the teacher and pupils alike are passionate about.”

Nowadays, teachers are expected to teach more than just content. With more being put on their plates each year, and less time to jump through the hoops that they are expected to manage, many are left feeling undervalued.

High school CTE and criminal justice teacher Mindy Acklen states, “There is a lot of people making regulations and laws that have to do with education that have never been an educator.”

Teaching is not a job that allows you to clock in and out freely. Teachers often take home the stress and demanding workload the job requires. Acklen states, “If you are invested, your students become your children. You take on their joy and their sorrows. You become the parent when they are here.”

Pack states, “Teachers truly wear so many hats. You feel the pressure of always being prepared (even if you’re not there): Observations, student behaviors, creating high-quality lessons, and getting students motivated.” 

Teachers are forced to focus more on checking boxes than on actually educating their pupils. 

Former chemistry teacher Bailee Brown voices her reasoning behind leaving the profession after almost two years: “I spent so much time outside of school preparing lessons and setting up labs. I was at school at five am and didn’t leave till four pm every single day. The overall stress for such little compensation left me feeling consumed and drained.”

Brown goes on to say, “I loved my students, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting kids excited about chemistry, but it was all the extras that made the demands hard to meet.”

When asked if she blames those who leave the profession early, Acklen stated, “No, everyone has to do what’s healthy for you. How are you going to be an effective teacher or be good for the kids if your heart isn’t here?”

Educators no longer feel supported; they feel as though their countless hours and sleepless nights go without any recognition, all based on if a test score is up to par. 

Tennessee students take the TCAP or TNReady comprehensive exam at the end of the school year starting in third grade.

An article by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing states, “All tests have ‘measurement error.’ This means an individual’s score may vary significantly from day to day due to testing conditions or the test-taker’s mental or emotional state. Scores of young children and scores on sub-sections of tests are particularly unreliable.”

If testing is known to be “particularly unreliable” then why does it have such a major effect on teachers and school systems? 

State Dual Credit teacher Lauren Jernigan agrees, “Most of what I do is making sure my students have a shot at the State Dual Credit test. But I don’t have time to prepare my students for the rest of the outside world. And if you do score well on the test does that mean you are prepared for the outside world? That is debatable.”

Melanie Banks, physical education teacher at East Coffee Elementary school and President of Coffee County Education Association, agrees with the TEA’s (Tennessee Education Association) stance on state-wide testing.

TN Ready is a deeply flawed measure of academic achievement and teacher performance,” said TEA President Beth Brown. 

“Teachers already measure student progress through grading assignments and teacher-created tests that are valid as any accountability system. Many Tennessee teachers also use state-approved benchmark assessments that provide important data to inform instruction and gauge student needs.” 

Through daily tests and benchmark testing assessments, teachers are able to get more accurate data about the excellence of their pupils. End-of-the-year exams like TN Ready are unreliable and result in school systems focusing more on checking boxes than on the education of their students.

When asked about the pedestal in which standardized testing has been put on, Acklen replied, “The thought process that testing is the only way to measure a student’s ability is false. When you measure how valuable a teacher is based on test scores, you never take into account the things the teacher has no control over. Is the student getting enough sleep, getting feed, how’s that student’s home life? These are things we as teachers have no control over but directly affect how students test.”

An increase in violent acts causes behavioral management to be one of the leading concerns of teachers. Teachers feel as though they spend more time dealing with discipline than they do actually educating. 

It is vital that a change be made to make teaching a sustainable and humane career once again. So what’s the solution? 

A possible approach for this crisis is to increase teacher salaries. In response to this approach Pack agrees that “Sadly, teacher pay is probably a big factor. Many teachers have advanced degrees and still make less than many jobs that don’t require a college degree.”

Teachers get paid nearly 21% less on average than other professions that require a college degree. Thirty years ago, the pay gap was just 2% less. Resulting in many teachers working another job in order to make ends meet.

Becoming an educator and staying in the teaching profession needs to become a financially sound career choice for everyone, so we can achieve a diverse teaching force for an increasingly diverse student population,” Banks voiced.

All in all, educators desire to have great administration who creates a positive tone in the workplace, obtain a pay increase, and experience less emphasis on test scores. 

Teaching does include some unique benefits. Yes, there are summers off, but as a teacher, you get to shape the next generation.

Banks states, “I feel the most rewarding aspect of teaching is making a mark in students’ lives. Our students need positive role models. Our students need love, comfort, safety, someone who believes in them 100% of the time. Teachers do that!!”

We often forget to address teachers’ mental, emotional and physical needs. Next time you see a teacher, I encourage you to thank them for all the hard work they put into making our schools and communities better!