Wonkitorial: Getting Better Teachers Into The Classroom
Lee Iacocca, who was instrumental in the development of the Mustang while C.E.O. of Ford and later brought the Chrysler Corporation back from near bankruptcy, (more bio here) once said:
In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsiblity anyone could have.In this era of ever-increasing performance expectations (due to the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act) placed upon our schools, we believe that it has become absolutely imperative to attract our best and brightest college graduates into our nation's public school classrooms.
Sadly, a great many high-achieving college students don't even consider public school teaching as a possible career choice.
There are a number of factors, but it's safe to say that one of the chief reasons is the public's perception that teaching is simply a job, (and a part-time one, at that) and not a career.
This perception is fueled by the facts that public school teaching in this country has historically been thought of as an occupation with: low status, low pay, high stress, little respect, and few, if any possibilities for promotion based upon merit.
The result of this negative perception is that talented, ambitious, hard-working, and high-achieving college graduates stay away from public school teaching in droves.
Which further fuels the perception that classroom teaching isn't a good career choice.
Teach For America, (website here) a privately-run not-for-profit organization that we've come to have quite a bit of respect for, has had substantial success recruiting academic high achievers for the 2400 teaching positions that it filled this year. Most of these newly-minted teachers (few of which trained to be teachers while in college) will be sent to schools that primarily serve economically disadvantaged students.
The problem is that many T.F.A. participants permanently leave teaching after serving their two-year commitment. (The Seattle Times article states that two-thirds quit the classroom.)
The good work of Teach For America not withstanding, what we need each and every year are tens of thousands of highly-effective teachers who will dedicate themselves to a career in teaching and actively strive to improve their teaching abilities over a lifetime of service in the classroom.
Which leads us to ask a question: Why aren't those people who are charged with formulating EduPolicy doing more to make teaching a sought after and highly-desirable career choice?
A few months ago, Eduwonk.com guest-blogger Alice In EduLand, wrote a post that's had us thinking ever since:
As my final word, I would like to make a suggestion to all of those who make policy decisions for our schools: consider teaching.She said it so much better than I ever could...
I don't mean that you should teach, I mean that you should think about what stops you from doing it. It doesn't pay much? Your colleagues will be dull and boring? You'll never be respected for your intelligence or ability? It's tedious and time-consuming? It's frustrating to work with piles of bureaucrats and paperwork? Your parents will ask you when you're getting a real job? You'll never really be recognized for doing good work?
If you can find a way to make teaching a career that's good enough for you then people like you will do it.
We think that it's high time that EduCrats in general, (and the globe-trotting U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings in particular) take a hard look at what needs to be done in order to help make Iacocca's idealistic statement less about idealism and more of a reality.
By raising the overall quality of our teachers, we will help ensure that more children will have the opportunity to reach their academic potential.
From local school boards to the offices of the U.S. Department of Education, the recruitment and retention of the best teachers ought to be a primary concern for all those who formulate education policy.
Every child in America deserves to be taught by a truly (not just on paper) well-qualified and dedicated classroom teacher.