American education is a capsizing social issue but a thriving industry.
Our high school graduation rate is 72 percent, the highest completion in decades according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. With 68 percent of those graduates enrolling in college, “Millennials are sizing up to be the most educated generation in history,” the Chamber’s millennial review reports.
Higher education tuition is consequently rising at a faster rate than other goods and services, which is good for institutions, debatably good for teachers and, of course, catastrophic for students. For the first time in America’s history, we have more student loan debt than credit card debt.
Both sides of the political spectrum battle for different breeds of education reform. With one-in-five millennials becoming teachers (US Chamber Millennial Generation Research Review), they’re caught in the crossfire. This is the current state of their work:
1) Their hands are tied.
Teachers often love their actual work but suffer from accompanying administrative politics. One teacher at Knox County Schools explained in a review for kununu, where I blog about millennials in the workplace, “Administrators are so worried about keeping their jobs and moving on up the ladder that their judgment becomes clouded and they end up making intra-political decisions instead of making decisions based on doing the right thing!” Another loved teaching at first, “but then it got political in a way, like high-school.” The administrative expectation for teachers, said one at Hyde Park Schools, is to adapt to last-minute changes “with a smile and no questions.”
Many teachers describe their administrations as rude, uncaring, unsupportive and disrespectful.
Many teachers describe their administrations as rude, uncaring, unsupportive and disrespectful. Dozens of teachers who left reviews on kununu echoed the general sentiment of this Horn Lake Middle School teacher: “the administration is disruptive to teamwork, overly critical, condescending and doesn’t recognize and acknowledge the talent and efforts of employees.” Another from Viewpoint School quipped, “You are replaceable as far as they are concerned.”
School administrations may become even more difficult to navigate as they side with the hovering parents of increasingly difficult kids. As education becomes more expensive, young Americans and their parents become pickier, more demanding consumers. For instance, the Chamber Foundation found that college professors sense their students demanding to be entertained. One teacher at Scott County Schools, complained of students with “poor attitudes [and] apathy” A Livingston Public School teacher thinks it’s a cultural issue: “We are afraid to make [young people] accountable for their actions.” Indeed, one Alliance City School District teacher explained that the “Administration was always on the parent/student side NOT teachers’ sides.”
2) They’re undervalued.
Teachers aren’t only undervalued by their administrations. They’re undervalued by our culture. In 2014, the centrist think tank Third Way uncovered that only 35 percent of surveyed millennials described teachers as smart. Instead, these millennials tended to see teaching as a profession for “average people.” In 2014, 50 percent of millennials thought that teaching had recently gotten less prestigious.
They’re undervalued financially, too. One educator at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire reported that his university was “overworked and underpaid.” The impending threats of layoffs “deeply hurt morale,” and “Those who are left are asked to do more with less every day.” Another from St. Catherine’s Center for Children said that the school’s staff hadn’t gotten a raise above three percent in eight years. In consequence, “Most employees are considered working poor.”
The teacher pay problem doesn’t just stem from low entry-level salaries; it stems from plateauing salaries over the course of one’s career. One teacher at Wake County Public School System noted that senior teachers get fewer raises than younger ones. Another teacher at Hillsborough County Schools explained that the “pay schedule stalls at age 47” for the typical teacher: “Do you want to have your pay capped that young?”
Unfortunately, low pay dissuades talented millennials from teaching. According to Third Way’s survey, a full 39 percent of millennial students said teacher salaries would need to increase for them to consider the profession. Many others pursue teaching for a few years but leave due to poor compensation. Because many teachers “soon grow tired of the low pay for the long hours,” says one teacher, “turnover is a huge problem.”
3) They’re rewarded.
Fortunately, teachers are rewarded in a different, more meaningful way. More than nearly any other profession, teachers report feeling fulfilled by their work. “As a teacher I always felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of my lessons,” said one at Fordham High School. “This has nothing to do with the work environment but my personal satisfaction.” Another from Kid Orange Tech exclaimed, “The feelings of knowing you are contributing to a child’s education and wellbeing is incredibly rewarding!” A teacher at Premier Education Group wrote, “I firmly believe we changed many lives in our time there together.”
Fortunately, teachers are rewarded in a different, more meaningful way. More than nearly any other profession, teachers report feeling fulfilled by their work.
Moreover, today’s teachers are rewarded in an unprecedented amount of ways — sometimes without even leaving their house. Technology has broadened education and, consequently, the variety of teaching positions available across the U.S. The GOP campaigned on the demand that “We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools,” such as technical institutions, online universities and life-long learning programs. Today, 31 percent of all higher education students have taken at least one course online. The popularity of such options will only grow.
Today is a hard time to be a teacher. But with proliferating teaching options and education a political priority on both sides of the spectrum, it’s also a monumental time to be a teacher. “The work is rewarding, knowing that we are helping to further the education for the next generation,” one Freedom Prep Academy teacher wrote. There’s nothing more important.
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