Tuesday, March 6, 2018

We don't have to do this, you know

Whether it's policy makers crafting the latest education policy to govern, regulate or otherwise keep teachers in line, or whether it's a school board negotiating a contract, or even a charter operator unilaterally setting the terms of employment for their teaching staff, you sometimes get the feeling that those folks believe that teachers must be teachers.

It's like they think they're a video game boss, standing on a narrow digital bridge over a lake of digital lava, and teachers are the hero game player who have no choice but to cross that bridge to get to the final goal. They park themselves on that bridge, secure in the knowledge that we absolutely must go through them, that some teacher gene decreed at birth that we would have to enroll in a college education program, that we would have to pursue a teaching job, that we would have to stay in that job until retirement, or maybe death, no matter what obstacles they put in our way.

This is confused thinking.

We do not have to do this, you know.

Students attending college can choose from a wide variety of majors, including very many that are not related to teaching.

Grown adults with college degrees can pursue a wide variety of jobs, including jobs that are not teaching.

Not every profession suffers from this problem. Lawyers, business executives, CEOs, athletes-- all benefit from a system in which the People in Charge routinely say, "We'd better make sure he's happy, or else he'll just walk away. Quick-- let's throw piles of money and benefits at him so he'll stay."

But teachers (and nurses and some other choice professions) suffer from the managerial assumption that they will never walk away, that they don't have any other options to consider, that we can squeeze them and squeeze them and squeeze them and it just won't matter.

This is foolish thinking.

We do not have to do this.

I once joined a former student while she was dining out with friends in North Carolina. There were eight people at the table, and I believe five of them were people who had started out as teachers and left the profession. People leave teaching all the time. Young people choose professions other than teaching all the time.

We do not have a teacher shortage. We have a shortage of states and districts willing to make the job attractive enough to recruit and retain teachers.

Teachers do not always help their own case. When we talk about teaching being a "calling" or "all we ever wanted to do" or "what we were born to do," we may be telling the truth, but we are also like the person walking onto a used car lot and introducing ourselves by saying, "Hi there! I'm shopping for a car and I'm going to pay fifty grand for it."

Of course, there are some people in power who kind of understand that people have other choices, that teachers don't have to teach. There are people in power who know all that, and they just don't care. Their disrespect for the work is so great that they believe teachers are as easily replaced as fast food fry cooks, and like fast food fry cooks, teachers don't really have other options. And, of course, teachers are mostly women, anyway, so it's not like they deserve to be paid a professional family-supporting wage.

But no. We do not have to do this. We could be doing something else.

If people designing education policy and negotiating contracts could just absorb that idea. Imagine what policy would look like, what teaching contracts would look like, if our policy movers and shakers were sitting in their office thinking, "We need to really make an effort to make these jobs attractive, because these folks we want to become teachers could choose to do something else, and then we'd lose them, and that would suck. So let's concentrate on keeping recruiting and retaining them."

But no. In places like West Virginia and Oklahoma and too many other places we get, "Well, I'm sure we'll get this whole pay thing fixed in a few years or so. In the meanwhile, we're sure you're not going anywhere, and if we never do pay you a living wage, well, that won't affect your career choices, right?" Well, not just that. We also get this kind of crap:

Because teachers really shouldn't be paid at all. They should just do their jobs just because.

No. We don't have to do this.


  1. We are now witnessing overt signs of widespread, public school carnage courtesy of nearly two decades of test-threaten-blame-and punish reform. The blatant distrust of three million+ professional educators was the centerpiece of reform policy. Now how's that brilliant approach to workin' out for all those know-nothing billionaires? their minion? the politicians" and media? Lots of luck putting this egg back together any time soon. Sad.

  2. Very salient points, Peter, and again looking at the situation in a way that people usually don't.

  3. I saw a comment about the strike that said: "It's time we introduce those teachers to a sign: HELP WANTED!"

    But pray tell, who exactly are you going to get to replace them? Clearly, I missed the report of millions of surplus teachers waiting in the wings to get jobs.

    I find it quite sad (and funny) at the same time that true believers in the free market system suddenly get very pissed when the principles of the free market work for anyone other than CEOs or the corporations they run.

    I really do wonder exactly how much Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public think the bar should be lowered to get licensed teachers in the classroom. College graduates of any major that can get certified in any area? What about an associate's degree? That good enough? (My bet is on that one, by the way; the future wave will be that we can train teachers as a "trade skills" job in the same way we train electricians, plumbers, and the like). What about just a high school graduate? What about ultra conservatives that would vouch for high school dropouts at minimum wages, just as long as their child aren't in those classrooms?

  4. "...if our policy movers and shakers were sitting in their office thinking, 'We need to really make an effort to make these jobs attractive, because these folks we want to become teachers could choose to do something else, and then we'd lose them, and that would suck. So let's concentrate on keeping recruiting and retaining them.'" That does happen, just not here. Of course, there are also some places where a HS diploma will get you a legitimate teaching job. The latter countries are looking more and more familiar in many respects, and the former are looking more foreign every day.