Teacher as Talent

Google "teacher shortage" and the results are frightening. As a former teacher, and as a former teacher educator, I am not surprised.

About five years ago, I surveyed an entire population of K-8 teachers. More than half said they would not encourage people to enter the profession.

Their dissatisfaction wasn't about pay. The teachers we surveyed were more concerned about autonomy, respect, and increased accountability measures that were either age inappropriate or inaccurate indicators of classroom performance.

Since the survey, those things have only gotten worse.

Teacher bashing is at an all time high, with politicians on the left and right in a relentless race to find new ways to blame teachers for every American ill.

Are there bad teachers?


But to attribute poor student achievement to teachers and teachers alone is akin to blaming dentists for cavities. Kids come to the dentist with unique sets of teeth and unique ways of cleaning them. Some kids don't clean them at all. I don't hear anyone blaming the dentists, but if we want to be consistent we should.

Arguably, many teachers are leaving because what they thought they would be doing...teaching...has turned into bureaucratic micro-management.

While high-stakes standardized testing may have served the important purpose of pointing out inequitable education between white kids and everyone else, it has not done a single thing to reduce it.

Test scores follow very neat lines according to zip codes. Should teachers be blamed for this?

That's an obvious no, but when we berate them for not raising test scores amongst the nation's poorest, hungriest, neediest children, we are blaming teachers for macro-economic, systemic problems.

And yet, at the same time, America loves its teachers. They Key and Peele comedy skit that broke the Internet last week taps into a broad sense of injustice over how we treat the young men and women entering the semi-profession.

I say "semi" here because regardless of what how you feel about teachers, we don't treat teachers like professionals, but what if we did?

What if we treated teachers like talent? What if teaching was as exclusive as playing a professional sport, and what if the respect matched?

I'm game.

Let's make it three times as hard to get into colleges of education, and let's triple the autonomy and respect accorded with the job. Let's name schools and streets after the best ones, and let's show bad ones the exit.

This is going to make some of you angry, but I'm against tenure. I've simply been in too many classrooms over the past 15 years where I have seen absurd behavior ranging from "teachers" watching the Home Shopping Network and making purchases, to sleeping in class, to making students copy mindlessly from page after page of dated power points.

If you aren't hitting home runs, you don't belong on the field.

I'm also against using high-stakes standardized tests to determine whether or not a teacher is doing an excellent job in the classroom. The tests are flawed, even the Nationals Statistical Association argues against using Value Added Measures for teacher evaluation, and they aren't leftist, union sympathizers.

Instead of high-stakes standardized tests, we need to use more authentic forms of evaluation. Digital portfolios have the capacity to give a more powerful analysis of what teachers are doing than test scores. Many districts are adopting digital portfolios for students; there should be no hesitation in doing the same for teachers.

To continue the sports analogy, judging a teacher by test scores alone is like judging a football team based on stats alone. Imagine going to a game and watching the scoreboard the entire time. Would you learn something about the game? Absolutely, but you would have missed every action, response, and decision behind the score.

Show us the projects. Display the Civil War diorama. Play the video documentary. Demonstrate pedagogical excellence. This vivid transparency beats numerical accountability in every game, set, and match.

As for tenure, the landscape has dramatically changed, and if there is a silver lining to the national teacher shortage, it's that good teachers, talented teachers, are not going to have to worry about their jobs.

In fact, the best teachers will need agents to ensure they are getting premium contracts. Judging by the response to Key and Peele's sketch, Americans are ready for that to happen.

It's up to the policy makers holding the purse strings to decide on raising the salary cap off the floor, to give teachers the autonomy to do what they have been trained to do, and to usher in an age where the foremost profession, the profession that prepares every professional, is the most desirable career in the country.

This post originally appeared on Appleton Learning's blog.