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By Lynn M. Gangone
While serving on this year’s (Phi Delta Kappan) PDK Poll Advisory Board, I listened and collaborated with scores of thought leaders in the education ecosystem—The National Education Association, The Learning Policy Institute, The Learning First Alliance, The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, among others. We determined what approaches to take to quantify, understand, and disseminate the vast amount of information and data garnered from this extremely worthwhile and useful poll. We discussed the results and how they could be utilized to advance 21st century classrooms, its students, and those who lead them.
This year’s PDK Poll was entitled, “Frustration in The Schools: Teachers Speak Out on Pay, Funding, and Feeling Valued.” The new release is one of several polls PDK has conducted to examine opinions on public education for more than 50 years. The poll, according to PDK, is “a steady reflection of U.S. opinion about public education.” Its results are meaningful because they offer an annual review of one of the most important parts of our society—public schools, and focuses on of some our nation’s most crucial people—teachers. The poll measures opinions on the value of a public-school education and its teachers while giving us a sense of how our schools are supported, or more importantly, how they are not supported. It gives us a hypothetical picture of what the future of the educational world might hold and enlightens us about current issues from the perspective of the public. It informs and helps us contemplate how students are changing and what we, as educators, need to do to support and foster that evolution.
Generally, it offers us a bird’s eye view into what is needed within the 21st century classroom environment. The results depict teachers’ opinions, and the realities of what is happening in our public schools. It identifies opportunities, as well as gaps, in the system. It begs the questions, “How do we better serve our students and what are the challenges associated with doing that?” I like to think of it as the annual pulse of the profession. AACTE’s central work is to support colleges of education, and education programs, which educate students to become teachers. This poll gives us a snapshot of what that profession looks like at this moment in time. From the results, we can identify ways that our faculty can enrich their curricular and practitioner-based work so they can, in turn, better prepare PK-12 students. As the association that educates the educator, knowing what teachers are thinking and feeling helps us equip them with the necessary tools and support needed for continued success.
These results are the first line of defense for change and improvement. I think of it in two ways:
First, our colleges and programs of education have sadly experienced a decline in enrollment parallel to the decline in individual’s interest to become a teacher. The PDK Poll expands upon this occurrence. Its findings report that parents are not encouraging children to be teachers. And worse, teachers are not advocating for the profession either. In fact, PDK reports that 55% of teachers polled would not want their children to follow them into the teaching profession. This gives us insight into what the enrollment challenges are, and what we need to do to increase interest and passion for teaching again.
Secondly, it surprises me how the general public would like their public schools to be well-funded, their roads well-maintained, their officers and first responders ready in the event of an emergency, but that there is such a resistance to finding the proper funding vehicle to make these things happen consistently and efficiently. Tax dollars come to mind as a suitable vehicle. The continued dichotomy of what we want as expressed in the poll versus what we are willing to support is fascinating. An interesting commentary on PDK’s website by Maria Ferguson struck a nerve. She writes about how the poll shows that people would be in support of funding schools and education with gambling, state lottery, and legal marijuana sales. The issue here is that we are abdicating responsibility. We are not committing to funding public education, yet we want drugs and gambling to be the revenue streams that funds it. Isn’t that ironic? The very things we teach our children to avoid, the addictions we try to shelter them from are, to many, the answer to how their education should be funded. We will not have the level of public sector service we desire and expect until we are willing to say it is our job to fund education properly.
When I reviewed the commentary from parents and teachers about the concerns they have for students, they mentioned depression, anxiety, lack of support at home, bullying, and abuse. Our children are profoundly experiencing physical and mental health issues. We are seeing increased numbers of students in special education. These are all the reasons why there needs to be a much more honest investment in our young people.
The poll results strongly indicate that the one teacher, one classroom model is insufficient. From my perspective, educational and holistic needs of our children are not being met. The results strengthen my belief, and the beliefs of other educators as well, that we need to start discussing how we prepare our students and how we create opportunities for students to work collaboratively inside school districts. We must consider how we educate both our teacher candidates and our PK-12 students. We need more technology; we need more of everything, frankly. I really believe our entire approach needs assessing and changing.
When I read the poll and the focus groups’ commentaries, it was heartbreaking. What can we do to reverse this frustration? At AACTE, we are working very hard to change these feelings. We will be publishing a series of papers that examine what is happening societally and the impact it is having on our children. We are working diligently with our member institutions to promote the importance of teachers. AACTE is collaborating with the states to address teacher shortages, and we remain committed to diversifying the profession. Data shows us that most teachers are Caucasian women. More men and individuals of color need to be leading classrooms. To help facilitate that, we are focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion and how we can support—and retain—those teachers of color entering the profession. In fact, that commitment is a key component of AACTE’s new strategic plan.
And as always, we are focusing on the unrepresented individuals within the teaching profession, while concentrating heavily on the retention and recruitment of all teachers ready for the challenge of enhancing and shaping the precious lives of the children we teach.
Lynn M. Gangone is the president and chief executive officer at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).
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