School boards have seen a teacher shortage come for years. Until recently, anyone who drew attention to this problem was the sound of weeping in the wild.
Ten years ago, we could still choose from several candidates for a short temporary assignment, and now many schools are no longer even able to find someone for an assignment for an entire school year.
If entire groups of students leave without a sufficient basis to start challenging studies and then take highly qualified jobs, the bill will be much higher.
I’m very concerned about how things should go about in math education, for example. If we can no longer apply for our Masters in Mathematics to a third degree of Strong Mathematics courses, we will end up in a vicious circle. No matter how hard someone with another diploma may try, it is not self-evident to impart an exact theoretical structure and all the finer points of a career to those students who could be the next generation of mathematicians.
As a mathematician, I may also be able to teach Dutch or history, but I can’t offer the same quality of a Dutch master’s or a history master’s degree. That would be bad for the students.
Chris Button was a teacher of mathematics and until the end of August was director of the Sint-Andreaslyceum Sint-Kruis (Bruges).
School boards have seen the teacher shortage coming for years. Then they were crying in the wilderness.
- Suggestion or offer
Quickly solve the shortage, but also develop a long-term vision for the teaching profession.
It is not easy to make mathematics more attractive, because there is no social incentive either. Saying you’re not good at math seems more common than claiming you’re talented at it.
Anne Domes (mathematics professor at VUB) recently made a striking appeal to “recruitment”: companies must determine how much they need employees with a mathematical education. Our society is driven by big data. In order to approach it and use it the right way, real mathematicians are needed. Companies can play a major role in cognition. If they persuade more students to choose mathematics education, it is likely that more mathematicians will also choose the profession of teaching.
However, it is time for the government to take action. This must be done on two tracks: a (temporary) solution to the current problems must now be found, and there must be a long-term vision for the teaching profession so that sufficiently strong faculty can be hired again in the long term and the quality of our education is assured.
Ensure that excellent teachers can excel in class and not get lost in other assignments.
Some suggestions. Ensure that new teachers always have a full-time job. Some have to start part-time and still work hard, others start with a temporary assignment for a few weeks and then drop out of the job again. Ensure that your lateral participants can start part-time and get paid full-time immediately when they combine teaching with teacher training and ensure that they can take their full seniority with them.
Guide novice teachers well through a personal mentor with extensive experience in the relevant field. Every school now has a mentor, but the number of hours allotted to this is very limited for one-on-one relationships.
Finally, work on the school’s mission for teachers, so that each teacher can be deployed flexibly and according to their strengths. This way, give school boards the tools to better organize their school. We’ve been talking about a school assignment like this for nearly 20 years, but we’re still nowhere near that.
We cherish achievable expectations towards teachers: it is often impossible to maintain a diffusion of outstanding pupils on the one hand and ongoing remedial measures on the other hand to involve everyone in the chosen direction. Ensure that excellent teachers can excel in class and not get lost in other assignments.
The prevalence of allowing students to excel on the one hand and continuous treatment on the other hand in order to get everyone involved in the work is often unsustainable.
Finally, provide incentives for schools (and school boards) to collaborate more efficiently and to rationalize and improve the range of study options, so that available resources and teacher hours can be better used.
I can add “at any cost” to each of these items. These choices must be made in order to reap the benefits in the long term. Doing nothing will only exacerbate the problem. If entire groups of students leave without a sufficient basis to start challenging studies and then take highly qualified jobs, the bill will be much higher. Or do we also want to see these kinds of jobs go abroad?
Entire groups of students are not taught because they do not have a teacher. In addition, many retired teachers are employed. Such situations should not and cannot continue. We hope that this issue will soon be at the top of all political agendas and be quickly resolved. I’m still optimistic.
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