Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Why Do We Need Professionals

This is my short answer to the question. It's my wife and newborn twin sons, now about twenty-seven hours old, and it has been an adventure every step of the way, which is how it goes with childbirth, a process that can unroll gently like the Miracle of Freaking Life, or like a terrifying rush of nurses and doctors and anesthesiologists into the operating room where they cut the mother's body open and yank children out of it, which is still miraculous, but in a much scarier way.

Anyway, when it's all happening to your wife or your self or your children, your first thought is not, "Boy, what I need is an ivy league graduate with a real interest in obstetrics" or "Right now I really want to disrupt the traditional model of infant delivery" or "If only there was an alternate certification program so that my children could be delivered by someone who had a previous career as a plumber" or "or even "I know my doctor is really good, but what I really want is another bunch of doctors to choose from."

No, at that moment you want a trained and experienced professional who knows what she's doing and who can be trusted to take care of my family.

But the last couple of days have reminded me of another reason that we need professionals, a reason beyond the now well-worn argument that nobody wants to hire folks from the five week Surgery for America program.

In the past several days, my wife has been every kind of naked in front of nurses and doctors. Now just physically naked, but pretty emotionally raw, and in these high-pressure times, we have performed couple dynamics in front of staff that people we know don't ordinarily get to see in our home. One of the basic professional skills of these folks is to know how to deal professionally with naked people and the things they reveal. (And there's the extra dimension here that many of these staff members are former students of mine.)

Teachers have the same need for this brand of professionalism. We know so many things about our students and their families, particularly if we've taught long enough to deal with multiple generations of one tribe. Teachers too easily see too many dark, difficult truths revealed not to deal with them professionally. Like medical folks, we are custodians of privileged information.

So when I see a story like the dope who handed out "prizes" to middle school students for things like "most likely to be a terrorist," my knee jerk reaction is that the alleged adult involved was not an actual teacher. (And in fact that "teacher" turns out to have been a former NFL cheerleader and dance instructor, which doesn't mean she couldn't possibly be a real teacher, but still, her work speaks for itself). And of course there are "teachers" who have done all the traditional training to be professionals and still ended up being terrible stewards of their students' information, secrets and lives-- and they should be moved out of the profession

But my point is that there is more to being trained to become a teacher or a nurse than simply learning a series of procedures. Becoming a professional means learning to live by a professional ethic, and yeah, I know, not everyone lives up to that ethic, but if you never acknowledge or preserve that ethic, you'll end up thinking that someone who's learned how to read the script in a canned teaching program has mastered all there is to know about being a profession al, and you will be putting a whole bunch of students who don't know how to cover up their rougher inner lives and who think they can trust their teachers-- those students will be at risk. We need people who are trained to be professionals and who live up to those professional ethics, and who can therefor be trusted around people who are at their most vulnerable.


  1. Congratulations to your whole family. May the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years bring back the joy of what it is like to see a bird or touch a leaf for the first time. And may time slow down for you all so that you may truly savor the privilege and blessing of simply being together.

  2. Again, kudos to you and the missus!

    On the subject of teacher professionalism, I remember talking to a TFA teacher about how the United States needs to follow the model of Finland, and treat teachers with the same respect --- including yes, higher salaries --- as the Finns treat doctors and lawyers and engineers, with the same demanding requirements for entry, and demanding training and education required as well.

    His response: "You can't compare those three things to teaching. Those are REAL professions." (stressing the world "real.")

    Or how about this quote from TFA Founder and leader Wendy Kopp:

    "“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers. The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom, even in their first and second years.”

    ... so says a woman who never taught a day in her life, and who sends her own children to a rich kids' private school whose website touts the fact that all their teachers are fully credentialed, with a decade or more experience.

    Or how about this quote from Jennifer Hines, the V.P. of the the prominent charter schoo chain "Yes Prep" charter schools.

    "There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever. We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, 'O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?' ’

    ... yeah right ... "comfort level" with fast food industry levels of turnover ... saying "O.K., I've got this" after teaching for just one or two years.

    The quotes from Kopp and Hines are from an article here:

    "Studies [including this one by GSE professor Susanna Loeb and colleagues] have shown that on average, teacher turnover diminishes student achievement. Advocates who argue that teaching should become more like medicine or law say that while programs like Teach for America fill a need in the short term, educational leaders should be focused on improving training and working environments so that teachers will invest in long careers."

    More about that here:

    Finally, Schools Metter just posted a piece about how what these short-timers actually deliver. He posts the scanned data about how the most celebrated charter schools' graduates who are accepted to college go on to have astronomically high "remediation rates":

    "Remediation costs from charter high school 'graduates' getting into college, but not having basic proficiency are astronomical both in terms of economics, and in demoralizing students. Education legal scholars like Robert D. Skeels have called for wealthy charter school executives and their unelected boards of directors to be held personally liable for the damages both to individual students, and to society at large. The costs of putting charter greed before student need are grave. It’s time to end the racist and classist 'school choice' project."

  3. As far as the comment about alternate path... My wife is currently trying to get into teaching via an alternate path. This isn't because of a need for a job (she has a pretty good one), or because it's easy (you know teaching is not), but because she feels a calling. Her mom was a teacher, and she feels like she made a mistake not doing the traditional path to teaching. She's hoping that she can correct that misstep many years past.

    Good luck and congrats to you and your family again!

    1. Thanks. And good point-- there are alternate paths and alternate paths

  4. Congrats and best wishes to the four of you. The certification procedure in my state when I went through was the antithesis of professional preparation. It was survival training that's all.