Academia nuts

A recent survey by The Oregonian suggests that out of nearly 2,400 new teacher graduates from Oregon’s schools of education this year, less than 600 were hired for in-state jobs this term.

A recent survey by The Oregonian suggests that out of nearly 2,400 new teacher graduates from Oregon’s schools of education this year, less than 600 were hired for in-state jobs this term. Those who choose not to uproot for hypo-educator states like Alaska are left with two options—give up on a career they invested years of their lives in or gear up for substitute teaching.

Numerous factors have lead to the current hiring climate: decreases in state funding, faculty layoffs and increases in the number of teachers acquiring their initial teaching license. Yet, more students every year are joining schools of education that can afford to swell with the influx of tuition-paying hopefuls unaware they will be abandoned after graduation. The system is broken.

Colleges of education should take responsibility for the amount of graduates that must wait a year or more before being hired by instituting a support system using the same networking they use for field placements. Students and prospective students should be properly informed of the realities they face rather than getting blindsided months before graduation.

In an interview with The Oregonian, Randy Hitz, Portland State’s dean of education, explained that PSU doesn’t have such a system in place because there has never been so much difficulty with graduates getting hired. His solution: “We really tried to encourage them to engage in substituting, to stay involved in the schools, to not leave their dream of teaching.”

According to the Oregon Department of Education, substitute teachers make $145.44 a day in salaried districts or $171.10 in districts without a salary scale. What sounds like a great deal for a few hours of work quickly deteriorates once the realities set in. Subs receive about half a percent (.526) of the salary an average beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree would receive. Many of Oregon’s new graduates who have received their master’s would qualify for the $40,000 salary they were promised in their program. Half a percent seems like a slap in the face. Substitute teachers don’t receive health benefits, but they do get a few hours’ notice to drop their plans for the day, find a babysitter and rush to their location.

It’s no wonder then that the attrition rate of teachers is so high. According to Education Week, a magazine for K-12 educators, 23 percent of Oregon’s teachers will leave their jobs within three years, and 50 percent will be gone in five. Good news for our newest batch of graduates: there will be a job opening in three to five years.

If you can brave the chilly job market, the day-to-day indignities of substitute work and still know for sure that this is what your life’s work should be, then I’m glad you will be teaching the future of America. The only good part of this ridiculous system are the galvanized men and women whom emerge from years of neglect, ready to be underpaid and underfunded for the rest of their careers. I can only hope that the 600 new hires were the best Oregon had to offer, because thousands of disenchanted prospects are looking elsewhere for employment.

But things could be looking up. The Obama administration announced $43 million in teacher-preparation grants to fund the U.S. Department of Education’s bourgeoning “residency” model of teacher training. The model provides candidates with financial support during their residencies in exchange for commitments to teach in those communities for several years. My initial vision was of an irate Joel Fleishman from the TV series Northern Exposure stuck in Cicely, Alaska, after the backwater town paid for his years of medical school. But the program already has students in big cities like Boston, Denver and Chicago. It also places some accountability on the shoulders of education institutes, not to mention the benefit rural and inner city schools will receive from highly trained teachers. The young educators will undoubtedly profit from the job security, the various challenges they will have to overcome and the warm glow of altruism that drives them to teach in the first place. Why shouldn’t their first experience in a classroom be a pleasant one?

As I near the end of my master’s program in English, I’m forced to weigh both myself and the system to see if teaching is the right path for me. Now that universities and students are beginning to catch on to the realities of the situation, both can make informed decisions about their futures. They would be crazy not to.