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Other than medical doctors and nurses, can you name two professions you believe our nation absolutely cannot afford to lose? I doubt anyone with common sense would say professional athletes, politicians or Hollywood actors.

I'd be surprised, however, if a majority of you didn't name teachers and police officers, each of whom are unquestionably vital to an informed and orderly society.

And that makes our situation even more dire when we realize teachers are leaving their jobs in record numbers, according to a December Wall Street Journal report. And conditions are equally bad, other reports show, when it comes to hiring and retaining law enforcement officers.

The way those from both career fields have been treated in recent decades, it's not difficult to understand the exodus. There was a time not long ago when both professions were considered among the most admired. Sure, both had their bad apples, but for the most part teachers were revered and police officers respected for the challenging jobs they held. Sadly, those times are in our nation's rearview mirror.

The Journal's 2018 analysis of federal figures discovered teachers are leaving their field at the highest rate ever. In general, the analysis found that teachers are being pulled away by increasing opportunities elsewhere, as well as from stress and frustration with many aspects including pay and school budgets.

Americans overall have been leaving jobs as other opportunities arose. There were 231 voluntary departures for every 10,000 workers a month reported just last year. While the number of teachers leaving isn't close to that high, they still departed on an average of 83 per 10,000 in the first 10 months of 2018, which is considerably more than any year since 2001 when government began keeping those records.

Moreover, school staff and community college faculty, as well as school psychologists and even janitors have been leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers as education overall has become increasingly absorbed by corporate methods and mentalities.

Chester E. Finn of Stanford's Hoover Institution addressed the problem by citing five specific reasons for teachers becoming disillusioned enough to leave their fields.

"We throw endless unpleasantness into the paths of teachers," he said, "starting with policies that make it impossible to discipline (or evict) the malefactors in their classrooms." He cited various educator inconveniences, as well as "parents who don't do their part--and complain when the teacher is too strict or doesn't give enough A's. Politicians who meddle with curriculum. And administrators (and policymakers) whose overemphasis on test scores in reading and math squeezes out other content, even as they promote into one's class kids who are far below grade level. Who in their right mind would want to stick with such a job?"

Finn is locked on target. I lost track years ago of the number of educators who told me they were burned out by administrators who failed to support them, especially when it came to matters involving student grades and discipline. One told me she was fed up with her administrator constantly siding with overly protective helicopter parents who argued their child was always in the right.

Things aren't any better with police officers. The Washington Post recently reported that Chuck Wexler, who heads the Police Executive Research Forum think tank in Washington, asked a room of police chiefs if they wanted their children to follow them into a law enforcement career. Not a single hand went up.

Overall interest in becoming a police officer appears down significantly, with job applications declining precipitously in places like Nashville, Tenn., where they dropped 60 percent in seven years, and Seattle, where they declined by nearly 50 percent. "Even the FBI had a sharp drop, from 21,000 applications per year to 13,000 last year, before a new marketing campaign brought an upswing," The Post reported.

Departments are also finding it hard to retain officers. In a survey of nearly 400 police departments, 29 percent of officers who left their job voluntarily had been on the force less than a year; 40 percent had been on the job fewer than five years. Many police leaders attributed the decline, the paper reported, "to a diminished perception of police in the years after the shooting and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and an increase in public and media scrutiny of police made possible by technology and social media."

Almost 66 percent of the police departments surveyed say their applicant numbers have decreased. The level of pay isn't the primary reason many aren't applying, Seattle Deputy Police Chief Marc Garth Green told reporters. "No. 1 is validation. The validation that they're putting their life on the line. There's no respect for that." He also blamed the news media for undermining respect for police authority.

Any way you cut it, valued readers, the conditions we've created in these fields in recent years represents a regrettable situation for our society and its future.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 04/07/2019

Print Headline: Numbers dwindle

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