A call for quality teachers seems almost absurd in the face of current public opinion of the profession. As politicians and the press continually hammer teachers, the profession becomes less and less attractive. As students become more and more disconnected from school, the job becomes all the more difficult. We are already in an era where most people are saying, “Who in their right mind would want to be a teacher?”
And what does it mean when we say that we want to elevate the status and pay of educators to attract the “best people” to teaching? Where are these "best people" going to come from? How big is the supply of these "best people"? Will they become teachers instead of becoming doctors, researchers, or top business managers? Aren’t all industry leaders constantly bemoaning the dearth of talent available to them? So do we rob Peter to pay Paul?
There are over 3,000,000 teachers in the K-12 public school system nation-wide. How does that square with the notion of attracting the "best and the brightest" into the teaching profession?
And just who are these “best people” that we want to attract to teaching? Are they identified by their college graduating class rank? What is it about being in the top ten-percent of your graduating class that uniquely qualifies a person for being a great teacher? Or is there a test that can determine who will be the most effective teachers? We have not seen it yet.
Isn’t there a lot more to being an excellent teacher than having received good grades in school? Does mastery of subject matter alone qualify a person to teach? What about character, temperament, personality, or the ability to understand and communicate with kids? Wouldn’t it be kind of important that teachers actually LIKE kids and don’t mind being around them all day?
Consider this: If the teaching profession is underpaid, maybe this is just the very thing that is already attracting the “best people”, or at least the "right people" to a career in education. Could it be that the most desirable quality and the most important qualification of any teacher is that they actually WANT to teach?
So what are we saying when we propose to attract “better” teachers by offering more money? Do we honestly want teachers who are attracted to the teaching profession “for the money”? Are the “best” teachers really motivated by money?
Similar questions are raised by the several forms of “merit pay” that are currently being proposed and implemented across the nation. What are we saying here? Are we saying that teachers just don’t work hard or smart enough, and if we dangle carrots in front of their noses they will get moving?
Do we really seriously believe the scathing stereotype that people who can’t do anything else become teachers? Is our estimation of teachers really that low?
And from a completely different perspective: Consider that the K-12 public school teaching workforce is approximately 3 million in number. Can any rational person actually submit a realistic proposal for substantially re-tooling the single largest workforce in America?
To this point in this discussion, the subjects of teacher training and school administration haven’t even been mentioned. If we truly want to see the quality of teaching elevated, shouldn’t we be looking at the institutions that train teachers and at the school administrators who are responsible for hiring teachers and supporting teacher’s efforts?
Put another way, who is training all of these substandard teachers, who is hiring them, and who is providing professional leadership to them? To pursue these topics at this time would be beyond the scope of the proposals presented here. In fact, the adoption of the Educate For A Change recommendations would largely obviate the need for such discussion.
Most of today’s teachers are faced with the nearly impossible task of teaching in classrooms where there is such a diversity of attitudes and abilities that none of the students can receive everything that they really need from the teacher. This is NOT the job that they signed on to. We know that teacher's don't go into the profession "for the money".
We believe that the majority of teachers enter the profession with idealism and a sincere desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. We believe that impossible burdens placed on teachers are the reason for "burn out". We believe that when teachers are underperforming, it is because they have become as disconnected as the students that are being placed in their classrooms.
This lies at the root of much of the teacher dropout phenomenon. Many teachers drop out of the profession in the first few years of their career simply because they discover that our system doesn’t allow them the opportunity to teach successfully. Most of the other frustrations in teaching, such as being mired in disciplinary issues or feeling unsupported by the administration stem from the fact that so many of the students are not sufficiently prepared for the coursework and have already disconnected from the learning process.
Give a teacher a classroom full of students who are prepared to learn, and see what happens. The intrinsic reward and the fulfillment that comes through changing the lives of students far outweigh the incentive of token pay enhancements.
We cite the ED in 08 website which states, “Seventy percent of eighth graders are not proficient in reading – and most will never catch up.”
Does this imply that today’s eighth graders are ready to be instructed in rigorous, world-class eighth grade standards for reading, or does it suggest that each student needs to be effectively taught at their own individual readiness level?
Put another way, do we teach the standards, or do we teach the child? Were these standards made for the children, or were the children made for the standards? When we teach children, they quickly perceive where our priorities lie.
Noble, lofty, idealistic sentiments will not resolve the issue. Broad rhetorical strokes about “raising the bar of expectations” will not close the gap that exists between students and standards.
Without real change in the way we place students in classes, teachers will continue to be frustrated with the impossible demands being put upon them, the profession will dwindle, and the professional field of education will become barren.
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