Saturday, November 30, 2013

Uncle Arne Wants You!

It has occurred to the Department of Education that teaching has a recruiting and retention problem.

"No duh," you think. And then maybe you think, "Well, perhaps that means the DoE will do something about lifting the heavy hand of regulatory oppression form teachers' backs. Maybe that means that the feds will step into the culture wars to defend teachers. Maybe the feds will stop suggesting at every turn that public school teachers suck. Maybe-- just maybe-- this means that the feds will step to take the lead in increasing the esteem and  with which the profession is view. Maybe they will take a second look at how their support of CCSS and charters and TFA and new teacher accountability models are crushing the soul of the profession."

Okay, you probably aren't thinking all that because A) you haven't been living under a rock and B) you aren't delusional.

No, what the feds have given us is a nifty PR campaign and a website that works better than the ACA site, but has far less useful information.

"Make more. Teach" is the name of the campaign, and you can read all about it at

The site puts its goals in plain English.

TEACH.ORG provides the information and community support that aspiring
teachers need to design their own path to a rewarding, successful career.

 And its origins are there in black and white as well.

The TEACH campaign originated as a Department of Education initiative to increase awareness of and support for the teaching profession. is actually almost two years old, but you can be forgiven for not knowing that because nobody has talked much about it, because there's nothing to talk about. A chirpy blog, a slick tumblr-style aggregator, some pretty interviews with teachers, and a many-click series of pages that will tell you less about the requirements to pursue a teaching career than you can learn from your high school guidance counselor. 

The new centerpiece of the...well, one hesitates to call it a "campaign." "Limply promoted  suggestion?" "Better-than-nothing lip service?" Anyway, the new feature is a PSA campaign, in which teaching is described with the kind of dewy-eyed prose usually reserved for missionary work and fine arts. 

The tagline is "Make more. Teach." It is a probably a measure of my curmudgeoniness that what I hear is the same old, "Teaching is so noble that you should be above wanting money and control over your own destiny." It is teaching as missionary work, where you just go where they send you and take what they give you because your noble rewards are so much more important than that other stuff.

The missionary line is annoying because it's not all wrong. If I won the lottery today, I would still go to school to teach and do my job. I would just go there in a nicer car. But at the same time, it's a special kind of insulting that my profession and my workplace are under attack from people who are in the education biz for no reason EXCEPT the money and the power and the control.

Speaking of those folks, the campaign is a big bed with a bunch of odd bodies sleeping in it. Microsoft and State Farm are the BIG partners with the DoE, with Teach for America right behind. The NEA and the AFT are also there, and while I have no love for their leadership these days, I  get that you win their participation by simply saying, "Think about how it will look if you AREN'T involved in this." Plus an odd assortment of other groups: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Unite Negro College Fund, American School Counselor Association, 100K in 10, and more.

The PSA gets its theme and voice-over work from Taylor Mali (Mr. What Teachers Make), and of all the things to come out of the Department of Ed, it's certainly by far the most benign. But if Arne wants to "increase awareness and support for the teaching profession," I can think of a few dozen suggestions for him. Actually, I can think of one suggestion for him, and it's the same one as always-- instead of talking as if you respect and value teachers in public education, act as if those words are the truth. Here's one thing that being a teacher and being a Secretary of Education have in common-- talking a good game is not enough.

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