As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in New York City, Manuel Hernandez had many recently arrived students from all over the world. Determined to bridge that gap, he discovered culturally responsive teaching. Purpose called him to come to Central Florida and use his teaching experience to facilitate language learning and get young adults (particularly immigrants) college and career ready. After several years in Florida, he has been able to help open the academic doors that were shut for many of the recently arrived students. His Coming to America (CTA) educational program has impacted second language learners in Florida.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the national teacher shortage. After almost four decades in one of the oldest professions, I have come to understand why a lot of my peers decided to embark on a different journey. As a matter of fact, there has always been a shortage of educators who truly love the day to day “grind” in the classroom. Rita Pierson stated that “Every child deserves a champion adult who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” While all of us remember a champion or two who helped us love life and become lifelong learners, with every year, the hurdle and walls built within the confines of the educational system make it more and more difficult for a college student today to think of teaching as a career.
As a high school teacher, the wall was built higher when Covid-19 hit. Much due to my experience (according to administrators), I was assigned 9 classes (4 hybrid and 5 face-to-face) for my regular class schedule. I never imagined a classroom scenario with 15 students, face-to-face and 35 at home on Microsoft TEAMS during the same class hour. With no training and a lot of on-the-job survival skills, I barely survived the 2020-2021 classroom year. When I noticed that I was part of a select group of teachers in the school with this kind of assignment, I complained to the administration, school board and teacher’s union, and none of the three did anything to alleviate or support my claims. With special masks, and on-the site testing (Covid-19), I barely made it through the 2020-2021 academic school year.
When a pay hike was announced by the District, veteran teachers received merely enough to fill the gas tank a couple of times, but new and recently hired teachers were compensated and received from five to six thousand dollars more a year than what any veteran teacher received. Feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness overwhelmed many veteran teachers. A veteran math teacher (friend of mine) quit the classroom to work as an electrician in the School District. While the obvious objective is to rejuvenate the classroom “champions”, those newly hired have the tech skills many mega corporations are looking for, and they too are running away from the classroom.
Rita Pierson calls teachers champions. That’s an understatement. In times like these, there are political battles and power struggles at levels outside of the classroom, and by default affect what happens in the classroom. There is no room for creativity other than how a teacher uses strategies to make a pre-ordained and canned curriculum relevant to the student. Teachers who become too creative are sidelined. When the classroom experience intensifies, hurdles appear, making creativity and innovation a grueling process. Many opt to stay within the simple and ordinary A, B and C’s of the teaching routine and are apprehensive about making a difference or being culturally relevant.
Becoming culturally relevant has its price. With the acute change in student demographics comes the sudden shift in literary lanes. However, the cultural bridge cannot be sustained within a traditional core curriculum. But there is no room for a modification or revision of the core curriculum. With several books published and thirty-seven years of teaching ESOL, I asked to be part of the curriculum revision process, but six months later after I made the request I am still waiting for a return e-mail. Building cultural competencies are a must in every subject area!
Driving outside of the generic core curriculum is prohibited, and those who dare to do so risk their jobs. With year to year contracts, career stability is non-existent, and every step a teacher takes with a mistake a teacher makes may be subject to a dismissal. Teachers are not allowed to make mistakes. One mistake is too many and totally out of the question with grounds for a removal.
There has been a lot of talk about the national teacher shortage, and there will be more than talk in the up and coming years. With veteran teachers with over three to four decades of teaching entering retirement, and young blood teachers leaving for jobs in Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin, the shortage threatens to become a crisis very very soon. Instead of a “child you save…”, we will hear out loud the phrase “the teacher you save may be your own.”