imagesThis is no surprise. For years we have been predicting the demise of a great profession because of so–called “reform”. Ms. Rich writes a great deal in this article about this shortage but neglects to point out how changes in education over the past 15 years created this problem.
I’ve drawn on quotes from my book (Doing The Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks (published in December 2013) or posts that are at least a year old to show the point.
  • Barbara Tuchman, in her 1984 book, The March of Folly, from Troy to Vietnam, defines folly as the “pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest, where people pursue the same failed policies and expect different results.” What better example of folly is there than current public education policy?
  • Reformers live by the standard of industrial America developed a full century ago by Frederick W. Taylor. Captains of industry (robber barons) supported scientific management, as it was called, in order to make their employees more productive. Today’s policy makers want to turn teachers into industrial employees, churning students out like Ford workers churned out Model T’s.
  • Our nation’s media, conservative and liberal alike spread misinformation. They vilify the teaching profession, regardless of how successful many teachers are with children of all ages. Our politicians implement laws and plans based on that misinformation. Foundations give huge sums of money based on that misinformation. Corporations profit from that misinformation.
  • Instead of “getting rid of bad teachers,” more good and excellent teachers are leaving. Teaching colleagues, who three years ago said they loved their job and would stay until someone carried them out, are now saying they can’t wait until they are eligible for retirement.
  • Teaching must be more of a profession for our most creative and ambitious 20-somethings. We must market the opportunities to become an autonomous, creative professional with room for growth.
  • The best kind of education is about distinctive and impassioned teaching, the kind that will engage and excite students. Often, it is the least orthodox that are the greatest teachers.
  • Well-trained classroom professionals can more than adequately decide what techniques and methods to use to reach a wide variety of students based on authentic and varied assessments.
  • We need wise teachers, not scripted robots. “A wise person knows when to improvise. And most important, a wise person does this improvising and rule-bending in the service of the right aims.” – Barry Schwartz, Practical Wisdom
  • “Temping” is a word I’ve been using to describe what school districts now seem to want to do, using budget crises and taxation issues as excuses, and then making the changes permanent.
  • Great teaching is an art, not to be controlled and censored by scientific management. Teaching is to be cherished, not lost and mummified. Our students should not become guinea pigs in a Fahrenheit 451 world of mathematical schema and “data-driven” engineering.
  • Why are the voices of many of the best teachers ignored, or worse, chastened by non-teachers? What other profession does that happen in? Law? Medicine?
  • The best school atmospheres are supportive and self-directing and that develop a sense of professionalism and camaraderie among colleagues.
  • The most successful districts are not that way simply because they have the “best” students. They draw and hire the best teachers. These districts have common characteristics: supportive administrations, mentor-teacher programs, inter-visitation, collaboration, academic freedom, higher pay with good benefits, and mentoring by master teachers and supervisors in their areas of study.
respect-logo-web“When I began teaching in 1970, and throughout almost all of my 38 year career in NYC and suburbs, teaching was a lifelong calling. Many, like me, started right out of college, grabbed a Master’s degree on the way to get permanent certification, and taught until retirement age or near it if an early retirement deal was created by boards trying to save labor costs.
Nationally, in 1990, 20 years into my career, the average length of service was 15 years. Of course that counted those who never were granted tenure and those who realized for a variety of good reasons, that they wanted to do something else. It also, by the way, included second career teachers who started at 40ish and worked fewer years to reach retirement age.
Now the average, as most people know is less than 5 years. This is because of a number of reasons. But more and more a rising factor has been the degradation of the profession and the increased lack of control over what teachers do as a result of NCLB, RTTT, High Stakes Standardized Testing, Common Core, and the overall takeover of education policy by corporations like Pearson and Achieve Inc. via the support of campaign fund needy politicians.
The results are more and more articles like this one in the Baltimore Sun where we read sad stories like,
After 22 years of teaching in Baltimore County, JoAnne Field says she will be leaving her third-grade classroom this year. She loves the children, has a principal she believes is “wonderful and supportive” and is committed to public education.
But because of the rapid changes to the county’s curriculum for elementary schools, she doesn’t feel she has been as successful with her class this year as she should have been.
“If I do what … the county is now expecting me to do, I can’t look at my children in the eyes. I know I am not giving them what they need,” said Field.
Yesterday I counseled a young woman who just finished her student teaching experience and was curious about what to do to find work as a high school English teacher. Sadly I told her that there will be lots of opportunities to teach because of what has happened in Baltimore and all over the United States. But, I told her, to have a  long career, she has to try to get hired in a progressive district that does not kow-tow  to the corporate agenda.
And from this Chapter: “Who Will Teach”?
cropped-9781460225493.jpg“A new survey paints a troubling portrait of the American educator: Teacher job satisfaction has hit its lowest point in a quarter of a century, and 75 percent of principals believe their jobs have become too complex.
The findings are part of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for School Leadership. Conducted annually since 1984, the survey polled representative sampling of 1,000 teachers and 500 principals in K-12 schools across the country.
“Only 39 percent of teachers described themselves as very satisfied with their jobs on the latest survey. That’s a 23-percentage point plummet since 2008, and a drop of five percentage points just over the past year. Factors contributing to lower job satisfaction included working in schools where the budgets, opportunities for professional development, and time for collaboration with colleagues have all been sent to the chopping block. Stress levels are also up, with half of all teachers describing themselves as under great stress several days per week, compared with a third of teachers in 1985.”
Given those numbers, who wants to teach besides TFA Corps Members who know all they have to do is last two years then go on their way to their real vocations? Teaching must be more of a profession for our most creative and ambitious 20-somethings. We must market the opportunities to become an autonomous, creative professional with room for growth. In addition, there needs to be obvious material incentives.
Finance and law draw many potential great teachers away from the profession. The highest, state average, starting salary for a teacher is approximately $40,000. The highest, state average salary for a teacher of any experience is approximately $65,000, the average, starting salary for a first-year lawyer. A first-year analyst in investment banking averages double that, and a third-year associate with an MBA averages $350,000 in compensation (careers-in-finance.com). At the same time, the top 10 percent of teachers in the country have an average salary range from $75,190 to $80,970.
Even in Scarsdale, one of the highest-paid teaching staffs in the nation, the average salary was $95,840 back in 2006-07 (Source: 2006-2007 Contract Analysis conducted by the Negotiations Clearinghouse, Putnam, Westchester and Rockland Counties). It is now over $100,000, but that still doesn’t come close to the figures attracting the best and brightest to the private sector. Apparently, our best and brightest prefer the big bucks to job prestige in national rankings. Why? Among the elite, the prestige is in making the big bucks. Good teachers often tell their students and their own children not to join the profession. Why are teachers paid so little in comparison?
Without big bucks, and no military draft to avoid (yes, that did bring a large number of very talented baby boomers to teaching in the late ‘60s), the number of good, talented teaching candidates will continue to decline. But unlike then when the vast majority stayed teachers, today’s college students are apt to go the quick temporary route via TFA. They cannot get good jobs anymore and use their brief experience to pad their resumes before they leave to go on their eventual career path. After their two-year stint, only about 20 percent of TFA Corps Members were still teaching in public schools in 2010. [Now that good jobs are more available even TFA recruitment has gone down.]
The major problem is strictly the supply and demand of good replacement teachers. What are the chances of replacing retiring or a bad experienced teacher with a better, inexperienced one?
Who do we want as teachers? As Emeritus Columbia University Professor Frank Smith has observed, “the best kind of education” is about distinctive and impassioned teaching, the kind that will engage and excite students. Often, it is the least orthodox that are the greatest teachers. As one of my great teachers told a class of mine in high school, “Think about what outstanding really means… standing out from and being above the crowd.” What is an exceptional teacher? Exceptional has come to mean best or brightest, but doesn’t it really mean to be the exception? The one who stands out from the crowd? Those are the great teachers–the ones we remember. Teachers teach. Well-trained teachers teach better. Great teachers change lives.
Weren’t your best teachers those who had practical wisdom? Weren’t they the ones who had character, along with certain principles and virtues that you may have not appreciated at the time? Weren’t they the ones who obviously loved their work and you as a result? And weren’t they the ones who almost always seemed to do the right things for the right reasons, the right way? Scripts and rules and models strictly followed cannot replace what the best teachers have most…practical wisdom. There is no substitute for it.
I recently had a conversation with someone who strongly believed and argued, “Lower student scores are produced by students with poor teachers, and higher student scores are produced by students with good teachers.” I simply asked her one question. “Did I become a better teacher when I changed jobs from a Bronx high school with poorer test results to Scarsdale High School?” She was clearly stumped, but refused to change her mind.
We predicted this shortage. As Linda Darling Hammond was quoted by Ms. Rich, “Other nations create incentives and supports in order to be able to fill the needs in a much more deliberate and conscious way.”
I guess that beats Presidential candidate Chris Christie’s idea of “punching them in the face.”