Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why would you want to teach?

While teachers in America often come from the bottom of the academic barrel...
This quote is from a U.S. News piece reporting on a talk Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, gave to a group of parent leaders. While Secretary Duncan is not responsible for the above quote, he did say:
Both South Korean and U.S. citizens believe that the caliber of teacher matters tremendously, and the great teachers make a huge difference in children's lives. The difference is: they act on their belief. We don't. We talk the talk, and they walk the walk.
Unfortunately, the first quote ignores the reality of the situation (see these excellent pieces from Jeff McQuillian and Matthew Di Carlo) and Duncan's  words minimizes the great teachers already in the profession and efforts to improve the practice currently underway. The problem is, the talk does impact the walk (or at least those who might take the walk).

In 1985, I graduated from Pepperdine University with a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. I had earned a 4.0 GPA, was the Valedictorian, and could have made a bundle as a programmer. But I had done some tutoring and coaching during my four years in Malibu and made the decision to become a teacher instead.

Because both my parents were teachers, I knew what was ahead. I had seen firsthand how hard they worked outside the school day to be "great teachers" that made "a huge difference in children's lives." At Mom's funeral, a line of former students and parents came up to us to recognize her efforts. I was also aware of the teacher-bashing going on at the time. Comments like, "Those who can do. Those who can't teach." The vitriol was bad enough that my parents steered me away from education, although later Mom admitted she knew I'd be a great teacher.

When I shared with some of my former middle school and high school teachers that I was going to go back and get my teaching credentials, I was surprised by one person's response. "Why would you want to teach? With your grades and degree, you could do anything." Evidently, things were so bad in education, anything was better than teaching. I stuck with it, though. Probably because I saw how much my parents loved their jobs and cared about their students.

Not everyone does stick with it, however, and the number of people interested in becoming a teacher is decreasing. Why? Maybe because teachers continue to be unfairly maligned and scapegoated by educational authorities. Perhaps Secretary Duncan thinks this sort of rhetoric is going to bring in great teachers. My guess is it's more likely to result in more people asking great teachers and college students who would make great teacher the question: Why would you want to teach?

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