It was a week before school started, on a sun-drenched day in August when I sat down to read some information about my incoming students. Jim, a student with an Emotional and Behavioral Disorder, had this written in his IEP, “Jim struggles to function in loud environments and typically does his best work in small groups or one-on-one.” You can imagine the thoughts that ran through my head as I pictured Jim in my concert band of 65 middle school musicians (certainly a loud environment with many kids!). Jim was receiving support, per his IEP, in four of his “core” classes but not in my class. As I thought about this, I realized that in twenty-one years of teaching I have never had an aide assigned to support any of my students in my classroom. Granted, not every child with an IEP has needed extra support but certainly, a few like Jim could have benefitted from this.
Growing Elective Teacher Shortage
Our country is facing a growing teacher shortage. Elective teachers are leaving the profession at some of the highest rates in the country. In fact, elective teachers are often listed in the “hard to find” or “low supply” category on many state and national reports (Goff, P., Carl, B., & Yang, M., 2018). I believe that one of the main reasons for this shortage is due to the lack of support for students in these classrooms.
A recent study found that “Teachers who strongly disagree that their administration is supportive are more than twice as likely to leave their school or teaching than teachers who strongly agree their administration is supportive.” ( Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, 2017, p. vi) My spouse, a general music teacher, has a class this semester with nine of the twenty-five students having an IEP and four of those with emotional and behavioral disorders that require support in other classrooms. Her students will not receive support in her classroom this semester. Do the needs of these students change when they walk into our classrooms? What does this say about the value of the discipline we teach? Are we setting these students up for success or failure?
Meeting the needs of students AND teachers
We need to do a better job of meeting the needs of not only our students but also our teachers. “About 90% of the nationwide annual demand for teachers is created when teachers leave the profession, with two-thirds of teachers leaving for reasons other than retirement” ( Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, 2017, p. v) Just think, we could solve the majority of the teacher shortage if we could just retain the teachers we have. I’ve seen many excellent teachers leave the profession because they are put in a position where they cannot meet the needs of the students they serve. Clearly, teachers need to possess the ability to differentiate, the flexibility to adapt, and the skill set to meet the needs of a variety of learners. Yet, where is that line between what is possible and what is practical?
Sir Ken Robinson once said, “I’m not here to argue against science and math. On the contrary, they’re necessary, but they’re not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, the humanities, to physical education. Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them” (Robinson, 2013) I believe in this vision of education and of human intelligence. I believe that we need to provide students with the appropriate, least restrictive supports needed to be successful in any class. I believe that we owe it to our students and our teachers to make this happen.
Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). Teacher turnover: Why it matters and what we can do about it. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
Goff, P., Carl, B., & Yang, M. (2018). Supply and demand for public school teachers in Wisconsin (WCER Working Paper No. 2018-2). Retrieved from University of Wisconsin–Madison, Wisconsin Center for Education Research website: https://www.wcer.wisc.edu/publications/working-papers
Robinson, Ken. (2013) “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley.” Ted, Ted, www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley?language=en.