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Tag: profession

What Do You Do?

Sea Gulls

It’s a pretty common question when people meet for the first time. Part of the usual introductory ritual, at least here in the United States.

But how do you answer that query without boring everyone within earshot?1 After all, it’s likely the person asking isn’t looking for a long, nuanced answer.

When I was still in the classroom, I had a straightforward, easily understood response: “I’m a teacher”. Everyone you meet has been in school and has a good, if often clichéd, idea of what a teacher does.

Setting a Path Early in Life

A recent post by one of our elementary principals has been stuck in my head for a couple of days, and I’m not entirely sure why.  It’s about an activity in her school called “College Begins with Kindergarten” in which the kids learned about various “helper jobs” in the community (examples offered: doctors, nurses, teachers).

Now I certainly believe a basic understanding of those roles should be part of the school experience from the very beginning. But then students were asked to consider what they might study in college and to create their own future diplomas, complete with a statement of the subject in which they would major.

While there are two pieces to this assignment that I find troubling, the first is more of a question than a quibble. I wonder if the kids in this particular class were asked to consider more common but less stereotypical “helper jobs”, ones someone in their family might hold, such as plumber, auto mechanic, or store clerk, or even one unique to the DC area, lobbyist.

However, beyond the potential lack of inclusiveness, what bothers me more is that an activity like this seems to be telling kids at the beginning of their formal schooling that college is the only acceptable path to follow at the end of that path, more than a decade later. Are we starting the traditional college-is-the-only-way indoctrination too early, long before kids have any kind of clear understanding of their own talents and interests?

Having never taught elementary students, I’m sure someone can tell me why I’m wrong about this rant.

Vision Doesn’t Come Cheap

For as long as I can remember, we’ve heard the statistics about the high turnover rate among new teachers.  The numbers vary depending on the study but reports say that anywhere from 30 to 50% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

A churn rate like that in the professional ranks of most corporations would be cause for concern, with a battery of VPs and consultants looking for ways to fix a situation that wastes a lot of money for things like recruitment and training. In education, it’s just one more problem to ignore.

As with most issues in education, the reasons for this high turnover are complicated. But for anyone interested in a solution, this might be a good place to start.

The perceived low status of teaching is also a serious obstacle to keeping teachers in classrooms. So, of course, are compensation issues and questions of how teachers’ effectiveness is evaluated, the subject of frequent and corrosive headlines that often reduce teaching to test scores.

Not surprisingly, many new teachers reported a phase where they felt disillusioned, defeated, and a deep sense of having failed. Teachers who have been academic high-achievers often cannot deal with this sense of failure; they have been hard-working, motivated, and successful in virtually everything they have done. They blame themselves for not better overcoming the shortcomings of the system and soon begin to believe they are not good teachers.

It doesn’t help when politicians and pundits also blame teachers for everything wrong with schools (as well as the economy), while at the same time cutting support wherever possible.

The writer of this piece concludes that we need to renew a “broad vision” for the teaching profession based on the ideas of former Harvard president Derek Bok: “Education institutions [must] assume the responsibility to cultivate interests and supply the knowledge that will help young people make more enlightened choices about how to live their lives.”.

That’s very inspirational. But is our society prepared to pay for that vision?

No Way To Run a Business

Chris, as he so often does, makes some excellent points in a recent post.

He’s concerned about the sustainability of a quality education system if it is completely dependent on teachers making “Herculean” efforts to get the job done by working nights and weekends year after year.

I want to celebrate every teacher who has made this job a calling. Thank you. But my concern is that this nation thinks that building an entire system around martyrdom is the way to go — that if you aren’t spending 80 hours a week and thousands of your own dollars, you can’t be an effective Title I school teacher. (And yes, I know that it’s not THAT much better in the wealthier districts.) We cannot build a national system on the idea that KIPP and TFA and the 60-70 hour work week is acceptable. It’s not.

I don’t think anyone who goes into this profession ever thinks that the job will be easy, whether you have high poverty kids or not.

And in all professions, beginners are expected to put in a lot of overtime during their first few years to establish themselves and learn the ropes (with the expectations of greater rewards later).

However, teaching is the only profession I can think of where the assumption is that the practitioner will do almost all planning, all paperwork, and all professional training outside of “normal” job hours.

Where practitioners are expected to pay the expenses for their own continuing education and often for materials to better serve their clients.

Can you name another profession, one that politicians and others have declared to be “essential” to our national well-being, that relies on Christmas wrap sales, computer donations, volunteers, and grants for sustainability?

I can’t

Teachers Gone Wild (Online Edition)

With all the stories in the media about kids posting inappropriate information online – and all the warnings about the consequences down the line – you might think they would have learned something by now.

Or maybe that their teachers would at least be paying attention by this time.

Maybe not.

The Post seems to have found an epidemic* of local teachers who are posting “overtly sarcastic or unintentionally unprofessional” and “risque” material on social networking sites.

But the crudeness of some Facebook or MySpace teacher profiles, which are far, far away from sanitized Web sites ending in “.edu,” prompts questions emblematic of our times: Do the risque pages matter if teacher performance is not hindered and if students, parents and school officials don’t see them? At what point are these young teachers judged by the standards for public officials?

Good questions. But I’m not sure this teacher is particularly bright with her answers.

“I know that employers will look at that page, and I need to be more careful,” said Webster, adding that other Prince William teachers have warned her about her page. “At the same time, my work and social lives are completely separate. I just feel they shouldn’t take it seriously. I am young. I just turned 22.”

Considering how many lawyers we have in this area (along with a corresponding number of paranoid school administrators), it’s pretty much a matter of time before this person gets fired.

However, I’m not sure it really matters (and not because she may have lousy judgement).

Many beginning teachers don’t really see their time in the classroom as a career, more as simply a job to hold for a while until they decide to do something else.

Studies regularly show that more than 30% of new teachers will bail out before their fifth year, so likely they’re leaving anyway.

And that probably also says something about the way our society views the teaching profession in the first place.

[*Of course, an epidemic to the Post could be as little as the four or five examples they located for the article.]

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