Gov. JB Pritzker has announced he wants to provide $70 million per year for the next three years to address the teacher shortage. Hats off to him, as there is no denying that hundreds of classrooms are lacking qualified, certified teachers. The issues of lack of teachers and low pay are real. These issues have been real for all of the 45 years I was in education and the six since I have retired. We told you so. The teachers' union has been warning about these issues for years.
When we spoke out about low pay, we were told we were greedy.
When we called for lower class sizes, we were told it would cost too much.
When we warned that the issues teachers faced would lead to fewer and fewer going into the profession, we were assured that many would always want to be teachers.
So, here we are, and now the plight has hit every school district. I wrote about this prior to the pandemic when the Illinois State Board of Education released a report saying that the approximately 5,000 people exiting college with a teaching degree per year weren't enough to fill all open positions.
There is so much more to be done than throw money at the problem, although money does make a difference. Prospective teachers, as well as veteran teachers (that number keeps dropping too), must hear that they are supported, appreciated and viewed as the experts who know the best curriculum and best teaching methods. That support has to come from community leaders and politicians who defend public education, not support ways to privatize every aspect of the profession.
Teachers have to be given resources and be able to turn to support staff to address mental health issues, behavior issues and outreach to families of their students. Money is desperately needed to hire social workers and psychologists who currently face heavy caseloads that make it difficult to fully help every child.
Pritzker invites neighboring state teachers to come to Illinois. Herein lies another issue that the union has warned about. Teachers from other states will be reluctant to come to Illinois due to our state's requirement to teach more years and receive lower pension benefits than they would have in their current state.
Any new teacher in Illinois must teach more years to retire with full benefits than teachers in many other states and will receive less pension than other states offer. The union fought these provisions before they were enacted in 2011. We warned of the consequences, but we were told the state needed to save money. We now face the fact that students earning their teaching degrees here in Illinois often take jobs in other states that offer better pension provisions.
I have been a teacher and union leader and am proud of my work in both. Teachers and their union speak for students – students' learning conditions are teachers' working conditions. Too many blame unions for the plight of education.
Maybe it is time people heed the union when it provides information about issues.
In the meantime, thank you Gov. Pritzker, for recognizing something needs to be done to address the fact that many students are sitting in classrooms without a qualified teacher and that more support is needed for our teachers. This translates into meaningful support for our students.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna is a former teacher, former president of the Springfield Education Association, and immediate past president of the Illinois Education Association. She served for 16 years as a trustee on the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System.