Somehow, education in New Mexico just seems to go from crazy to crazier, bad to worse.
A system that was acknowledged as struggling has weathered the storms of COVID. Now, the most recent development is a staffing shortage. What does that mean on a day-to-day basis? Principals and various staff are filling in as substitutes (because we don’t have enough subs and hiring new ones takes a long time). Security guards are in short supply. This means that disciplinary issues, including cellphone use, get less attention. In general, day-to-day operations are less organized. Everything we normally do happens more slowly and in a more chaotic fashion.
I’m actually proud of how my school has handled this. We always find a way. Our staff has rolled up their sleeves and everyone is working to hold it together. It’s not a normal year, but we’re making it work. After I complained, again, to my wife about how difficult it is this year, she said, “I think next year will be easier.” I imagine a lot of teachers feel this way – we hope next year will be easier.
It’s a mixed bag, as usual. There are thousands of passionate, committed teachers doing what they do and the frustration, this year, is higher than normal. News about national teacher and staff shortages is something you hear about a lot. How do we keep the staff we have and bring in new blood?
I’m going to offer a few very quick suggestions. Hopefully, none of these is a Band-Aid, because a Band-Aid approach has not worked in the past.
• Teachers recently got a generous bonus. I’m grateful and I could use the money, but why not offer such bonuses to new hires? Set aside a special fund for new staff. Cash could encourage more applicants.
• Reform teacher training/mentoring programs and staff development programs. There’s a lot of fluff and repetition there. A lot happens because it’s required and not because it’s good or has depth. Teaching, as a field, has centuries of history and reams of theory. Yet, training is superficial and based on trends, often sold by slick corporate grifters. Teachers hate professional development, largely because so little of it has any depth or value to it.
• Know that reform, real reform, is about inspiration. School could be incredible. It has the potential to change lives and transform communities, but a lot of it is hellish indoctrination, the stuff of William Blake’s London. Teachers are leaving the profession because schools are not what they could be. They should be temples of learning and compassion. They have become factories and prisons.
• Lastly, we have to understand that the money problem in our schools is not just a lack of funds. It’s about corruption and misallocation. There are ancillary district jobs that simply should not exist. These people may be good folks and well-intentioned, but they add no value and create busywork for already busy teachers. Meanwhile, money is wasted on expensive textbooks and technology, which add nothing. In fact, technology often makes our lives more complicated and frustrating. Thousands, perhaps millions, are wasted every year on things we do not use. Take that wasted money and use it to attract teachers and make real improvements.
Jacob Karlins is a public school teacher in Santa Fe.