When the Guacamole Hits the Fan

Article excerpt

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II've been saying for some time that we are running out of teachers, and are about to experience a desperate shortage that will produce major problems with no good solutions. When I speak to teachers about this, the response I get is "Everybody knows that." But when I speak to people outside the education system, they're surprised, and often reject my analysis as foolish speculation. It may not be news to you, in other words, but the general public has no idea that it's coming, or how had it's going to be. So, what happens when the shortage of teachers and principals can no longer be ignored?

I don't know, because forecasting this means anticipating how individual politicians will react to public sentiment - a practical impossibility. Having said this, here's my best guess (and that's all it is) as to what happens when the guacamole hits the fan.

The first reaction by ministers of education will be to deny that there's a problem. "School age population is dropping," they'll say, "so there is not now, nor shall there be, a shortage of teachers." This is a half-truth. There is a new baby bust emerging at the JK-SK levels, and it will continue indefinitely in Canada (though not in the States) so that there will be a steady decline in the school age population. However, this decline is going to take about 13 years to work through the public school system. Meantime, boomer teachers will be retiring in droves, and new teachers are dropping out at unprecedented rates, so we will be short teachers, especially as the U.S. has a much worse teacher shortage, and will recruit heavily up here.

Eventually, ministry denials will be shown to be wrong, and we'll reach the next level, which will be band-aid solutions. "I'm announcing today," the Minister of Education will intone, "a dramatic increase in funding for teachers' colleges. This will release a flood of teachers into the system, and my problems - I mean, the system's problems - will go away!" But it will take two to three years to increase enrollments, which will mean four to five years before there's a significant increase in new teachers. Meanwhile, the shortages will become dramatically worse, and American recruitment here will be heating up.

This will take us to the next stage of band-aids, which will be to allow people to teach who don't have teaching certificates. This is already happening unofficially and without public acknowledgement. School boards, desperate to fill positions for teachers in math, science, languages, special ed, and substitutes are reaching out to almost anyone who claims to be able to do the work. I understand, for instance, that there are school boards in major U.S. cities where more than half of all their new hires are uncertified. …