Sticking Up 4 Teachers

Some readers of my previous two blogs claim I am picking on teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am a teacher and always will be a teacher. More importantly, now that I have over forty teachers working for me, I have a track record of providing my faculty with the best working conditions and best pay in the field - better pay than the union scale; radically smaller class sizes (25: 1 vs. 37:1 in the public schools); and a work environment where they actually get to teach students instead of meting out discipline all day.

Don’t get me wrong: I have plenty more ammo to sock the teacher’s unions with, but honestly, the unions are only a third of the problem. Arguably the worst, as their deficits are enshrined in law, but culprit number two is clearly the university schools of education and the death grip they have on the credential process.

Why can’t a future teacher get a bachelor’s degree in a field he/she loves, take an additional 7 or 8 classes on teaching while still an undergraduate, and graduate with a credential? The most elite private schools – Exeter and Andover and Choate, for example – hire teachers with that kind of preparation. So do the country’s network of successful charter schools. Why can’t public schools do the same?

In the words of Deep Throat: follow the money. A recent article in Education Week (March 16, 2005) sums it up: “Critics have long accused universities of using education schools as cash cows, generating more in tuition from a steady stream of students than the institutions actually spend to educate them. With the expansion of off-campus programs in educational administration taught mostly by part-time professors, the report warns, the problem is getting worse.”

A college graduate who wants to teach in public school must attend school fulltime for one or two additional years (in some cases for as much as $20,000 a year), or she can go directly to work at a public school and take classes at night and on weekends for the next 3 to 5 years, also at her own expense. The time sacrifice is enormous. In the words of one Education Professor: "the opportunity costs of forcing half of the California Teaching workforce into "continuing their educations" in the name of credential seeking or renewal (AKA life-long learning) while attempting to teach a full day in the classroom, means that typically three days a week many of our teachers are not grading papers or preparing tomorrow's lessons. It means they are stuck in freeway traffic on their way to the next required credential college course, or they are at home writing the paper due tomorrow for that course. We don't train airline pilots WHILE they are flying commercial flights! Teachers are a different matter because, I guess, kids don't crash and burn."

What makes matter worse is that on top of being expensive, the training is almost always detached from the reality of the classroom. If teacher training programs at universities were akin to the training that lawyers get at law schools or doctors receive at Med school, we would be all for it. In fact, we would wonder why teacher training was not three years, like law school. The reason is simply that there is no coherent program for training teachers or principals anywhere in the country. A former Dean of a prominent school of education recently voiced that, because of the numbered of tenured professors on his faculty, he was powerless to bring any real change to his School of Education. And so he keeps on turning out credentials to his students, most of whom leave with enough debt from student loans to make a career in teaching look like the biggest financial miscalculation of their lives.

At my school, a teacher needs only a scholar’s zeal for the subject s/he studied in college, and a burning desire to lead the next generation. We’ll take it from there – from lesson planning to classroom management, from discipline to communicating with parents, she will learn from master teachers who are eager to lead and encourage the younger faculty. That’s how it works at Exeter – where tuition is thirty-eight thousand dollars a year – and that’s how it works in my school – where tuition is free.

The end result of this of course is that two generations of kids lose out. Instead of receiving instruction from scholar-teachers, school children are taught by people who know more about teaching theory than American history, more about educational philosophy than science. And the talented young college graduates, who might form a vital corps of desperately needed new teachers, turn away from a field that demands of them a costly graduate degree which can be exchanged for only one thing: a job in a low paying field.