McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State news

October 13, 2013

School leaders cite stress as a reason for a teacher shortage

Ada — Local school officials say their concern for what’s happening in education today extends into the future and what they see as a shrinking supply of new teachers put off by the stress of increased expectations of the job combined with low pay.

“New testing …just stresses teachers to the max,” Ada Public Schools’ Superintendent Pat Harrison said. “Then you throw in the fact you’ve got teacher evaluations that will soon be based on test scores and you throw all that into the mix and then you say, ‘and by the way, I’m going to have to put seven more kids in your classroom this class period,’ it builds and builds and it filters down to the point kids coming out of (college) are looking at that picture and are saying ‘I don’t think I want to (teach) after all.’

“I can honestly say this has been the first summer where finding the teachers we really needed was difficult to do,” Harrison said. He credits East Central University’s teacher education program with a pipeline of good teacher candidates as one of the reasons he’s never had to advertise for elementary teachers. “We’ve always had file cabinets full of applicants. There weren’t any this year.”

Administrators say state mandated testing is hard on some students because lack of sufficient funding means available resources must be invested in remediation, i.e. helping students get to the point they can pass state exams. This translates into less money and resources given to electives courses. “Business classes will go away because they’re non-tested,” Stonewall Superintendent Kevin Flowers said. “(The same is true) for business law and general business that were a norm at Stonewall that are no longer a norm.”

Flowers said the end result is on students is elimination of some higher level courses, class sizes increasing, many electives disappearing, new financial limitations on busing, and after school programs being cut back.

Harrison said he doesn’t understand why students who don’t finish high school in four years will be counted against schools on their state issued report card. “There are lots of reasons why a student won’t graduate in four years,” Harrison said.  

“Those are the things that make you crazy,” Harrison said. “You’ve got kids who have done everything we’ve asked them to do and then some, and have stuck in there and somehow made it in lieu of no telling what obstacles in their lives. Yet someone has decided schools can’t get credit for those kids when we probably worked harder with those kids than a lot of other kids just to keep them in school.”

Administrators say the new focus in education is to create more of a business model, which they say is based on a wrong assumption. “The business model assumes the quality of your raw materials can be regulated and determined,” Byng Assistant Superintendent Bill Nelson said. “In schools, there is quite a bit of variance in the quality of your raw materials. So getting to the exact same place at the exact same time is a challenge.”

Nelson said Oklahoma schools are gradually moving toward a system that defines the value of a child as a production unit with the chief end to discern what a child can produce as opposed to who he or she is as an individual. “That’s troublesome to school people,” he said.  

“I read a wonderful essay a couple of years ago about the funeral of a frog,” Nelson said. He said the story concerned a second grader who was devastated by the death of his pet frog. The teacher took time to stop class, go to the playground, dig a hole and conduct a funeral, all of which took ten minutes. “That will never happen at Byng Schools. We won’t give up that ten minutes. We’re hammering toward that outcome.”

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