Over Spring break I had lunch with an old teaching buddy of mine.
It has been nearly a decade since I retired from teaching but we keep in touch.
Not as often because of the pandemic. But, we are both vaccinated now. I wanted to share a Little Village bodega/restaurant with him and catch up.
The tacos de canasta were, as usual, fantastic. And I had one taco with sweetbread. I grant you it is an acquired taste.
I have acquired it a long time ago.
He loved the place, as I knew he would.
He told me about the number of teachers from our school who were planning to retire this year and in the next couple of years.
It is a lot of people.
It’s not just about the pandemic. In fact, while the pandemic has been the cause of a stressful year, most are retiring because it is the time to retire after teaching a full career.
I started teaching late in my life and was hired when enrollment across the country was at its lowest ebb.
When my lunch buddy started teaching it was ten years later. Enrollment was growing.
When I was hired my district had torn down a middle school just a few yers earlier because of low enrollment.
A few years later they had to build a new one.
Teachers hired around that time are the ones who are now retiring.
Are there teachers in the pipeline to replace those that are retiring this year and in the next few years to come?
It seems not.
For one thing, fewer people look at teaching as a 35-year career.
And fewer people are willing to teach.
A survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that 19 percent of undergraduate-level and 11 percent of graduate-level teaching programs saw a significant drop in enrollment this year. And Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income schools across the country, said it had received fewer applications for its fall 2021 corps compared with this period last year.
The number of education degrees conferred by American colleges and universities dropped by 22 percent between 2006 and 2019, despite an overall increase in U.S. university graduates, stoking concerns about a future teacher shortage.
The pandemic is an issue in this. But pay, pensions, respect, working conditions all enter into it.
These problems are long standing. For years I was amazed that young people, in spite of everything, kept coming.
Teaching was a calling.
It appears that is less true.
For the enemies of public education and teacher unions, this situation is a gift.
The enemies of public education and the enemies of teacher unions are organized and well-funded.
Our unions seem more occupied with what seems to me like short term and petty disputes.
Fewer young people who have the calling to teach is one more threat to public education as continuing democratic institution.
And to the existence of teacher unions.
But I don’t feel a sense of urgency.