Educators Say Politicians Are Scaring Potential Teachers Away From The Classroom

Aug 25, 2015

Fewer students are entering teacher preparation programs. Only three students are in General Biology 584, a class for science teachers this semester at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Perhaps the issue that worries current educators the most is where the next generation of teachers will come from.

Lots of teachers are leaving the profession. But what’s scarier than that is the shrinking number of people who chose teaching as a career.

You can blame economics and politics.

Teachers and public education take a beating at the hands of some politicians.

In the first Republican presidential debate on Fox former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told an applauding crowd how pushing through school vouchers and how “challenging the teachers union and beating them is the way to go."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also jumped in — "We fought the teacher's union."

Certainly not unlike what you would hear in Topeka, Kansas, or Jefferson City, Missouri, where questioning how public school teachers do their jobs is common in both capitals.

“Almost everything done in the Legislature in the last two years has been a slap in the face of professional teachers," says Professor John Richard Schrock who has been training science teachers at Emporia State University for the past 30 years.

In the last few sessions, Kansas lawmakers have stripped state protected tenure from teachers, tried to severely restrict what they can bargain for and cut classroom funding.

Fifteen years ago about 240 credentialed biology teachers entered the profession in Kansas.

That number has steadily dropped over time and hit a low last year of just 48 new biology teachers.

Every Emporia State student who wants to teach science in middle school or high school biology must take General Biology 584. But this semester there are only three students, down from about a dozen who used to take the class.

Kylie Phannenstiel from Shawnee, Kansas, says lots of her classmates would like to teach but, she says, it’s just not worth it anymore.

“We don’t want to spend all that time working to get our teaching license and being able to become a teacher and having to deal with the administration and just not getting any respect,” she says.

Bill Nicely is superintendent in the Kearney School District in Clay County, Missouri, and he agrees. He says he’s tired of public school and teacher bashing by politicians.

Nicely says there’s a perfect storm facing education now: attacks by politicians, reduced funding and a rebounding economy. “It seems to me that it has become politically appropriate to bash public schools and that’s not right. It just isn’t.”

Why, he argues, would someone step into that educational perfect storm when they could do something else? “I think that we as a society have forgotten the value teachers bring to today’s children.”

Not that educators think things would be perfect without politics.

Nicely admits the union sometimes makes it more difficult to fire a failing teacher.

Schrock says education schools have done a poor job weeding out students who might fail as a teacher.

Veteran teachers are worried about who will follow them.

“If you were a young teacher and you had other opportunities, would you stay around to put up with all of this," asks Paul Stuewe, who has been in the classroom for 40 years. He teaches AP European History at Blue Valley West High School and fears for the profession because of the current political climate.

“Politicians don’t get it, they haven’t been teachers, they don’t understand the challenges and they think anyone can do it.”

There’s a shortage of teachers everywhere and the pipeline will continue to dry up, educators say, unless politicians ease up on their teacher bashing.

This story is part of KCUR's 'Teaching It Forward' project, which looks deeply at the changing nature of the teaching profession in the Kansas City metro.