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An expert weighs in as school districts continue having problems filling classrooms with teachers

Brian Schultz, professor and department chair of Teaching Curriculum and Educational Inquiry at Miami University.
Brian Schultz is the professor and department chair of Teaching Curriculum and Educational Inquiry at Miami University.

A new school year is underway. But many school districts are having problems filling those classrooms with teachers. Mike Frazier spoke with Brian Schultz, professor and department chair of Teaching Curriculum and Educational Inquiry at Miami University about why there is a shortage of teachers.

(Transcript edited lightly for clarity)

Brian Schultz: I think there's a shortage of teachers right now for a lot of different reasons. But I think most importantly, we have to remember that there's long been a shortage of teachers, particularly in the most historically marginalized communities where there's been a revolving door of teachers in those hard to staff schools, largely in urban areas. And so what has happened over the last few decades is that those shortages have become more pronounced. And I think there's a lot of reasons for that. One of the reasons is that teachers are often targeted for the broader ills of society. So when a student comes to school hungry or hasn't had access to safe housing or other resources that help them achieve in school, often the blame is laid on the teacher's doorstep. Rather than thinking about the impacts of the contextual factors that come into play for a student in a student's life. Having to pivot to online learning has really put a lot of pressure or created a pressure point, if you will, for teachers to have to meet the needs of students and safety.

Also, with the kind of reckoning over racial justice there's been a lot of contested space around what's taught in schools, what's being called these divisive concepts and creating a lot of censorship around what happens in classrooms, which puts a lot of angst in the minds of teachers about how they're going to be under the microscope by various groups in a very polarized landscape. And so what happens in that is that their expertise, the ways that they teach content to students becomes a touchstone for people to critique rather than to celebrate teachers. And so we've got all these factors coming into play which combined with the historically low wages for teachers, are all kind of creating this perfect storm, if you will, to really exacerbate that shortage of licensed teachers.

Mike Frazier: There's been a lot of talk of teachers being criticized by some about teaching critical race theory. Have you done any research in that area or is that still kind of a new challenge that teachers are facing these days?

Schultz: I don't know of classrooms that are teaching critical race theory in the P-12 space. I think that what is being coded as critical race theory are often content related to social studies and to things that are aligned to the state standards but are being deemed or demonized, if you will, to fit this this caricature of what critical race theory is. And so I want to challenge that kind of assumption that this is happening. And I think it leads to this notion that teachers are there to indoctrinate young people. And I think that's the furthest from the truth. I think the best teachers are ones that are creating spaces and opportunities for students to become critical thinkers and critical analyzers of content and knowledge that's put in front of them so that they can make meaning of certain situations for themselves. And so we want people to become problem posers and problem solvers. And we do that through inquiry based teaching and learning. And so when we have those outside of the classrooms critiquing how teachers teach, we need to step back and say, Wait a second. They went through a teacher preparation program to become a licensed teacher. They are professionals. They have that content knowledge and they also have pedagogical expertise in order to reach the students in their classroom, not only through relationships, but through that content and that that inquiry that's going to inspire students to want to learn more, dig deeper, ask questions and be able to be those critical thinkers that we hope for all of our children.

Mike Frazier: What would you like to say to anyone who is going into or thinking about going into the field of teaching?

Schultz: I think that there is no more important profession right now is to really lift up and build the capacity of young people to be active citizens in our society. And so becoming a teacher has great promise and potential to affect the communities in which you care about in really profound ways.

A chance meeting with a volunteer in a college computer lab in 1987 brought Mike to WYSO. He started filling in for various music shows, and performed various production, news, and on-air activities during the late 1980s and 90s, spinning vinyl and cutting tape before the digital evolution.