A tough job

As an editorial writer, I spent years writing about predatory lending and the resulting subprime mortgage crisis. Those editorials sometimes prompted rebukes from readers, who argued the blame for rampant mortgage fraud fell on uninformed borrowers rather than unscrupulous lenders.

Readers expressed a surprising tolerance toward bankers who earned millions on easy credit policies and tempting teaser rates that targeted riskier borrowers.

When I began writing about education policy, I saw a far different level of accountability demanded of teachers, who earn average starting salaries of $30,000 a year.

The teachers of Elm Street incurred more blame for struggling schools than the wolves of Wall Street for a collapsed economy. The animosity toward teachers is striking, especially given they work in a low-paid profession that’s now being asked to perform the educational near-equivalent of turning water into wine.

The laundry list of goals we now have imposed on teachers and schools has expanded well beyond teaching math and reading. Beyond creating engaging lessons, their to-do list now includes curing poverty, leveling the playing field and providing a moral compass. And we also would like schools to persuade students to eat more broccoli, watch less TV and floss regularly.

At the same time, we're rolling out unproven value-added evaluations that measure the effectiveness of teachers on the performance of their students on standardized tests. For those teachers working in disciplines where there are no tests, such as foreign languages or the arts, we are rushing to design alternative yardsticks. Band students, for example, may be judged on how well they know scales. No one has explained how we can distinguish whether a failing grade means the teacher didn't teach scales, or the student never bothered to practice.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us fewer Georgians are choosing to go into the classroom.

According to a recent AJC story, 12,436 students received teaching certificates for the first time in 2007-08. Two years later, only 8,520 college students earned teaching certificates, and the number hasn't risen since, says the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

The decrease in people seeking teaching certificates is making it hard for districts to find candidates for the already hard-t0-fill slots such as foreign language, special education, math and science. Some South Georgia school administrators told the AJC the decline has led to more substitute teachers and larger class sizes.