Love, Respect, and Desperation
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read on Twitter and other blogs that many educators are tired of hearing that politicians and business leaders love teachers. What would be better is if these same people showed some respect for teachers. True as that is, another reality is that the same part of the public that consistently bashes teachers occasionally has to admit that it needs them – more of them in fact.
This morning’s editorial in the Oklahoman illustrates both the need for more teachers (intentionally) and the need to show them more respect (unintentionally). While crediting No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top as reforms that have improved public education (false claims, by the way), the paper asks how the state can develop and keep more high quality teachers.
The first part of this – developing great teachers – is multi-faceted. Teacher prep programs around the state do a good job, to a point, of developing a pool of quality teaching candidates. Every new teacher I’ve ever asked, though, has told me something they wish college would have prepared them for. Until you’re the teacher of record with a group of students to call your own, there are just some things you can’t plan for. Of course, developing talent is something that has to continue after teachers begin their careers. Professional development is important in any field. Collaboration time is also critical. Unfortunately, the state has never provided more than token support for the time and money these processes take. In the last few years, that support has completely disappeared.
The second part – keeping great teachers – is also complicated. There has never been a time when the entire teaching profession has been under attack as much as it is now. The discussion of the supposed problems with teachers often centers on calendars, lack of accountability, and unions. These topics are mere distractions. So are the solutions. Proposals of merit pay assume that teachers would be motivated to work harder if student performance were incentivized. The problems with such schemes are myriad, but largest is that students at the greatest risk often have the least experienced teachers. Merit pay will only amplify such discrepancies.
A third part of this discussion should be the areas of teacher shortage. Some of these are by subject (math, science), specialization (English Language Learner, special education), or geography (inner city, rural). Schools can’t always find the teachers they need when they need them. As such, schools sometimes have to hire the one applicant they get and then try to find someone better the next year. It’s a cycle that repeats itself.
The important things to remember are that teachers (a) work hard; (b) don’t get paid enough for it; (c) serve a public that demeans their work; (d) and suffer through specious reform ideas concocted by people who just don’t have a clue. Those of us who’ve invested a career in the profession have often said the greatest rewards aren’t the tangible ones. Without support (in multiple senses), fewer people are going to accept that.