The Heartbreaking Truth about Education
Why and How Will We Survive?
By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl with Ken Buck
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein
The “WHY” by Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl:
Our educators and support staff are leaving the teaching profession at an alarming rate. This should not only concern us that our educational staff members are quickly exiting the profession, but it should also concern us that our youth may not explore education as a professional option. Why would they? They might explore other professions or secure a teaching position where they are respected with greater flexibility, with competitive salaries, and with adequate rewards for advanced degree earnings. Other factors for choosing a profession outside of education may include examining performance rather than a set salary scale, receiving sufficient resources, being reimbursed for expenses, securing essential coverage when needed, maintaining acceptable workloads, ensuring safety, and much more.
Our educators are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. When I became a parent during my 15th year of teaching, I asked if my position could become temporarily part-time to allow the option to share the position with another educator. I envisioned this opportunity as an incredible experience for two educators to positively impact a classroom of students. I could maintain my current position by working three days a week and spending the remaining days teaching my own young children. I suggested that a non-tenured teacher could be hired to work three days, too. We could each work two days separately and one day could potentially overlap to allow mentorship and on-the-job training to occur—an opportunity relevant in other fields. The answer was an immediate “no.” Yet, I saw different varieties of part-time options occurring in other professions. My husband’s company was doing all it could to accommodate employees who requested part-time work for similar situations, even promoting those in recent years who work part-time for their outstanding contributions. It infuriated me that education was unwilling to think outside of the box. If outstanding, valued, and tenured educators want to continue teaching on an altered schedule, why wouldn’t we do all it takes to accommodate them, too?
Our educators are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. It is getting worse—fast! How will we rectify this? Who will listen? Who will implement the necessary changes? Education is a ticking time bomb. I wrote “Lessons Learned from the Space Shuttle Challenger’s Explosion” in January 2021. The current state of education could be compared to the space shuttle Challenger’s explosion. No one is listening to the educators, similar to how NASA did not listen to the engineers leading up to the Challenger’s deadly launch. It rings true even more today as I receive call after call from educators asking for guidance—should they stay, or should they go? Why does it have to be one way or the highway? Numerous professions have found ways to accommodate, reward, and attract employees. When will education launch into this modern era?
“Educators of all levels must feel confident, equipped, and supported to teach all students regardless of circumstances.”
Are our educators remaining in the profession based on the “pleasure” of teaching, or is their decision to stay merely based on “pension”—the amount they will receive in retirement? If they are consistently being questioned, not included in decision-making processes, or ignored in the vision of their department, school, district, or the profession as a whole, then fulfillment in the job could be lost. Most importantly, the satisfaction of serving students could be forgotten. Educators of all levels must feel confident, equipped, and supported to teach all students regardless of circumstances.
Our educators and support staff are leaving the profession at an alarming rate! Let’s celebrate education and promote the positivity and joy it brings to an entire community of citizens—educators, learners, supporters, and our future educational employees. Let’s honor the individuals working each day to ensure that every student is safe, nurtured, cultivated, inspired, and loved. In addition to this, let’s ensure that every educational employee is respected, mentored, and motivated and that accommodations for altered schedules for both students and staff are considered. If we do not, education will explode. We must be willing to make key changes to ensure that education is essential to and accepting of all involved—student, educator, family, community, and society. Education must evolve. The pandemic forced us to temporarily change. If we simply return to our pre-pandemic routines, we lost the chance to transform our profession to better serve the needs of all.
Our children are watching and listening. What do they see? What do they hear? What will they learn? How do they feel? What are they interpreting in the profession of education? Will our children want to serve as educators? Will we have enough qualified educators to passionately and purposefully serve our profession for years to come? Why?
The “HOW” by Ken Buck:
I first began talking about this situation, specifically with other administrators, in 2012 when I was serving as a school administrator. I was asked what we could do to stem the rising tide of anti-public education sentiment that was beginning to emerge at that time. I vividly recall the moment because it’s been replaying in my head for nearly a decade now. I stood up from my table, looked around the room, and pronounced, “We can’t change the public’s opinion about schools. It’s too late. We have waited far too long and those who oppose our educational system have already written the false narrative with the public.” I sat back down. The room was eerily quiet. I felt all eyes in the room staring at me and assuming that at any moment I would stand back up and deliver a more hope-inspiring message. I did not. The awkward silence dragged on. They stared. I sat motionless and quiet.
Someone finally broke the silence with a question. “So that’s it?” they said, “There’s no hope?” I slowly stood back up from my seat. “Oh, there’s hope,” I interjected with an important caveat, “but that won’t come until things get so bad in education that even the detractors finally have to admit that they need help saving our country’s educational system. Only when it gets that bad, will we finally turn the corner towards real solutions.”
Fast forward a decade and here we are looking for real solutions, because it’s about to get really bad, and I mean “close down some schools permanently due to a lack of staffing.” One thing that always seems to come up in solving the issue of education is the idea of more pay. I contend that will only solve a part of the issue. I will put it to you like this: I have a high school friend of mine who is a coroner. The man loves his job, and he’s great at it. He doesn’t do it for the pay. He does it because he’s passionate about his work. But if you would ask me to do his job, I don’t think I would for any amount of money. What is my point? For the many teachers who are considering leaving the profession, it’s about the job we are now asking them to do—not only the historically low pay.
One solution—one that is not wholly popular right now—is that we must get politics and politicians out of education (and I recognize the irony of an elected official making that comment). Not all problems are solved by politics, and when it comes to education, politics have helped to create and foster many of the over-the-top job demands of teachers that have put us on this path. We must stop passing legislation after legislation that continues to stack more and more job responsibilities on our educators.
Our culture and our communities also must have a paradigm shift in their thinking about educators. In my 30 plus years in education, I have run across many members of the public who say in one breath that they fully support teachers and then will later disparage public education. Those two entities are fully entwined. I do not mean to suggest that our communities should never hold a poor-performing teacher accountable. However, there has been a cultural shift in the last decade in which parents now hold teachers accountable for all facets of the classroom and even beyond. Personal responsibility of the student has become secondary in many cases. The lack of civility and common decency that many are claiming they see in our everyday lives has permeated our schools. Educators are facing a daily barrage of disrespect and threats of violence that have many of them bordering on a mental breakdown. Yes, it is THAT serious.
The bottom line to fixing the problem: We MUST treat our teachers like the professionals that they are. Think of them perhaps in the same context as medical doctors for example. There is never a long list of demands in the form of legislation heaped upon doctors annually. The public rarely shows up at a doctor’s office to demand a doctor be fired. We must put education back in the hands of educators and trust that our teachers are highly trained professional artisans of their craft. Educators do not need the constant input of more stringent job requirements, even from those who may mean well.
“If we want to save public education from an almost certain disaster, we must be willing to turn the problem over to the educators themselves. We will be amazed at what they will accomplish in saving education.”
When we first were faced with COVID, we literally asked our teachers to completely reinvent education in a matter of 48 hours, and they proved up to the challenge, much like the Apollo 13 engineers when faced with almost certain disaster. I said then as I marveled at how educators were addressing the challenge: “Step out of the way of teachers and be amazed at what they can accomplish.” That still applies. If we want to save public education from an almost certain disaster, we must be willing to turn the problem over to the educators themselves. We will be amazed at what they will accomplish in saving education.
About the authors:
Ken Buck has served in education since 1984 primarily in South Carolina, first as a classroom teacher and coach, then as a district’s communications director, before moving into the role as a high school administrator. Since retiring from education in 2015, he has continued in the field as an education consultant specializing in school communications. He has also served as an elected member of his local school board. Ken is also the author of several educational articles in various state and national publications. He is currently working on a book on the coming crisis in public education.
Ken Buck earned his Bachelor of Education from Clemson University and his Master of Education Administration from Grand Canyon University. Ken lives in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area with his wife Jill and their two children. Learn more: www.kenbuck.info and www.kenbuckschoolboard.com.
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl has served as a proud educator since 2001. She has successfully led secondary music programs in a rural school in Pennsylvania and two Title I schools in Maryland, one of which was assigned to corrective action. In both states, Lori has had the opportunity to open two new school buildings and develop their curricula. In 2004, Lori received the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Daniel Boone Area School District. In 2011, she was a finalist for the Howard County Public School System’s Teacher of the Year Award and a finalist for the 2013 Howard County Parents for School Music Educator of the Year Award. Lori is the author of more than 75 articles for an assortment of publications and designed these mentoring pieces into a graduate course that she instructs at The University of the Arts and VanderCook College of Music entitled “Making Key Changes.” These unique experiences have permitted Dr. Reichl to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a clinician, conductor, instructor, speaker, and writer.
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl earned her Bachelor of Science in Music Education from West Chester University, Master of Music Education from Lebanon Valley College, Administrator I Certification through McDaniel College, and Doctor of Music Education from Liberty University. She lives in Marriottsville, Maryland, with her engineer-husband John and their two children. Learn more: MakingKeyChanges.com. View past issues of the Making Key Changes newsletter and subscribe here and/or enroll in Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl’s reflective summer graduate course.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
April 5, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)