New Teachers Struggle in Hostile Political Climate

The continuing attacks on educators and school funding are hurting not just today’s schools, but tomorrow’s as well: Fewer people want to teach.

At least, that’s true in California, according to the Los Angeles Times, which recently reported the number of teaching credentials issued by the state dropped 29 percent over the past five years. At California State University, which traditionally produces thousands of new teachers yearly, only half as many students are on their way to a teaching career today as eight years ago, the newspaper reported.

Rozy Paleo with her students

“I admit there are times I think, ‘What was I thinking?’” says Rozy Paleo, who graduated from the San Diego State University last year. “Pink slips have been handed out left and right in our district, and hearing about increasing class sizes leaves me feeling discouraged.” She’s been subbing but she hopes to land a full-time position for next fall.

“I get questions all the time from family about whether I feel comfortable going into this occupation or if I’m worried about not having a job,” says Samantha Dunn, an NEA Student Program member at Park University in Missouri. “I know that if I allow myself to consider these fears, I would doubt whether this is something I want to do. But I have always wanted to teach and I remain true to that dream. I know that children need good teachers and I am determined to be that.”

It’s not just the job shortage that has education students questioning their career plans. It’s the lack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

“My three teenagers have talked their whole lives about becoming teachers just like their parents,” said Karen Cagle Botkin in Chicago. “My son starts college next year and still wants to be a physical education teacher. However, my twin daughters, who are 16, told me last week that they both have changed their minds about teaching. ‘I want a career where I can make a difference’ and ‘I want a career where I am respected’ were their comments.

“Those were the same two reasons I went into teaching 25 years ago! How sad.”

It’s also bad news for America, says Walt Gardner, an Education Week blogger who taught for 28 years in Los Angeles. “The timing couldn’t be worse,” he notes. “Large numbers of baby boomers are starting to retire from teaching just when even larger numbers of children enter elementary school. Who will teach them?”

In Wisconsin, epicenter of the attack on public employees, newspaper reports say veteran teachers are preparing to retire early and student teachers are looking for jobs in other states.

“I keep hearing friends say they do not want to teach in Wisconsin,” reports Samuel Guerrero, the incoming NEA Student Program state president. “They are looking for a stable state to teach in, especially a state that has a governor that recognizes the value of a good education system.”

And the current Wisconsin Student Program president, Erik Collins adds, “I know outstanding students who would do an amazing job in education have begun to consider changing their career path.”

Stephanie Dilbeck

But Stephanie Dilbeck, president of the Washington state Student Program, is one of many aspiring teachers who are undeterred by all the attacks.

“My fellow state board members, who have been teaching for thirty plus years,” she says, “constantly turn to me and remark with little questions or comments like, ‘Is there anyway I can talk you out of it?’ without a chuckle or a smile to follow. I know they are completely sincere and that is disheartening, but I know that teaching is the profession for me and I am sticking with it.

“More than ever, students need strong, dedicated, hard-working teachers and that is what I am going to be!”

And Dilbeck is confident that the millions of teachers across the country will stay strong and fight back these attacks.

“As our state president, Mary Lindquist, stated, ‘It is raining hard right now but we’ve got a damn good umbrella.’”