Teachers Are Feeling the Heat: It's been a rough two decades for teachers, but the last two and a half years might have been the worst.

AuthorGreene, Peter

If you put frogs in a pot of boiling water, they instantly jump out; but, if you put them in a pot and gradually heat the water instead, as the old fable goes, they won't notice until it's too late.

That's the situation that many teachers found themselves in this year. As the long-warming waters of education were put in a pressure cooker of pandemic-and culture war-related upheavals, things finally became hot enough to cause alarm. Yet teachers, unlike frogs, noticed. Thus, as we head into the fall, a big question remains: Will the teaching profession bounce back?

Before the pandemic, state officials across the country were expressing concern about having trouble filling teaching positions. In 2015, as teacher preparation programs faced a shortage of candidates, many state-level commissions were created to study the "crisis." Georgia anticipated a need for 14,000 teachers but had only 3,500 education majors. Of the 115 school districts in Idaho, seventy-eight have reported a total of 894 unfilled positions. A decade ago, we were already suffering from what Tim Slekar, director of the education preparation program at Muskingum University in Ohio, called a "teacher exodus."

Several factors were part of that growing heat. From No Child Left Behind to the rise of Common Core standards, teachers were increasingly required to deal with the effects of high-stakes testing, with schools--and teachers themselves--judged by student scores on a single, large, standardized reading and math test.

Schools shifted instructional focus exclusively to items on the test, with other subjects, and even recess, being cut to provide more test prep. Testing itself, including pretesting to measure readiness, ate up weeks of the school year. Instead of helping the whole child enjoy a broad and deep education, teachers felt the pressure to simply get good test scores out of their students.

In some schools, the extreme focus on testing led to micromanagement, with districts purchasing canned, scripted, and "teacher-proof" education programs. Teachers soon found themselves unable to apply their own professional judgment and autonomy. Just do this test prep, they were told, over their own objections. But as Harvard University testing expert Daniel Koretz observed in his book The Testing Charade, "Not only is bad test prep pervasive. It has begun to undermine the very notion of good instruction."

Education historian Diane Ravitch has highlighted that test scores were also used to feed a narrative of "failing schools," with teacher inadequacy...

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