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Abundance in the Land of Scarcity

Shortages of teachers, materials, support and respect have become the norm

by Laurel Schmidt

Put the words teacher and shortage together in the same sentence and most people picture a room full of students with no teacher in sight. But for professionals on the front lines of teaching, the first thought that comes to mind is the persistent shortage of almost everything they need to do their job well. Each day they tackle the enormously complex challenge of luring their students into the world of learning, often armed with little more than their creativity and a box of chalk. Scarcity has been such a constant in education for so long, it has achieved the status of a natural law.

Let’s start with the basics. Teachers routinely spend hundreds of dollars on pens, pencils, printer paper, scissors, glue, snacks, even soap and paper towels, which explains why during Teacher Appreciation Week, people set up GoFundMe accounts to help with classroom expenses that would otherwise come from teachers’ pockets. One teacher posted the wry comment, “Teaching is the only job where you steal things from home to take to work.”

Rationing is common. Most teachers get a limited number of copies on a machine that is frequently broken. Computers, audio-visual materials, even books, yes, books are in short supply. The last teacher hired in any building may find that the shelves in the book room are bare. And so the begging begins, trying to cobble together enough student texts to muddle through.

Teaching as a Famine Culture

Beyond the lack of material resources there are more serious conditions in education that create an atmosphere of famine, turning teachers’ thoughts from success to self-preservation or simply survival. When the economy goes south, class size swells and professional development days shrink. Even in eras of economic boom, teachers endure low salaries and lower status. According to Linda Darling-Hammond from the Learning Policy Institute, in 30 states a teacher with a family of four is eligible for several sources of government assistance, including free or reduced-price lunch for their own children in school.

Teachers are also excluded from critical decisions that directly affect their work because research and policy-making are routinely completed without input from the very people being researched and regulated. The proliferation of test-focused strategies, scripted, teacher-proof curriculum and sanctions galore means that teachers have lost autonomy over their instructional programs and even discretion about their individual classroom schedules, despite their credentials and years of experience.

training blue puzzle pieceFor the latest evidence of this predicament you need look no farther than Arizona which is struggling with a severe teacher shortage. Thousands of teachers have left the state in recent years for reasons including low pay, insufficient classroom resources, and so many testing requirements and teaching guidelines that they feel they have no flexibility and too little authentic instructional time. Arizona’s solution according to the Washington Post is to allow teachers without certification or even any teacher preparation to be hired and put immediately to work in the classroom.

Nationwide, educators live with a persistent scarcity of materials, information and power, and as a result many exhibit symptoms associated with people living through an actual famine. In his book, Man and