Wednesday, October 24, 2012

For the Love of Teaching, A Modest Proposal

It’s hard to go through a news cycle these days without someone expressing their love of teachers. Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and their various representatives are literally falling all over one another wanting to be first in line to show the love. But what exactly does that love mean for public policy? If “love of teachers” simply translates into the hiring of more teachers, then it is, like so many romances, a love lost. I think that both candidates, like anyone entering a “loving” relationship, should spend some time looking more closely at who they want to build their relationship with; it is important that we be a lot more selective- through public policy- in choosing our future educators. Unlike other countries, the US system of selecting and preparing people for careers in teaching leave a lot to be desired; teachers rarely come from “the best of brightest” of our college students, and those who become teachers rarely possess the kind of “entrepreneurial zeal” demonstrated by those pursuing degrees in other highly competitive professions.

 Through my own experience as a teacher, and as a teacher that entered the profession through New Jersey’s Alternate Route, I can say with the utmost confidence that there is absolutely no benefit derived by high school teachers that followed the traditional route of receiving a degree in education. This position was further reinforced by my son’s experience in high school. My son is now a freshmen studying aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland, and I can tell you unequivocally that his best teachers all entered teaching through the alternate route, all having spent time in the private sector prior to teaching.

These anecdotal experiences have been confirmed by a host of recent studies indicating that teachers with greater knowledge of their subject matter are best able to create passion and deeper knowledge of the subject for their students, that they exude greater confidence in the classroom, and are able to set higher expectations for their students as well. This of course does not mean that we can simply “dump” these subject matter “experts” into the classroom and expect them to perform. In fact the alternate route program includes a rigorous program of supervision in concert with college coursework taken at night as a requirement for completing the program.

What I propose- Senators Ruiz and Turner are you listening!!- is legislation to encourage students graduating with degrees in fields other than education to become high school teachers. For those looking to work in elementary or middle school, the program will focus on teachers that earn dual majors in their content area and early childhood education. Specifically, each college graduate will receive $5000 a year towards repayment of their student loans as long as they receive satisfactory performance reviews. This program will continue for the four years leading up to tenure. For those professionals that enter teaching from the private sector, they should earn a year on the salary guide for every year they have worked in the private sector.

Like all legislation reflecting public policy, there is some element of discrimination, subjectivity, and choice. In this case the legislation is designed not to hurt those that pursue degrees in education, but rather to reward those that choose to enter the classroom rather than become engineers, scientists, accountants, computer programmers, economists, statisticians, or any other number of professions, or who choose to give up those professions to enter the rewarding world of teaching.

I will admit that this proposal aligns with my own philosophy towards teaching, that being a belief that teachers should be viewed as entrepreneurs, with their classroom in essence their product. Having content specialists is an integral part of this philosophy. The next step is to dial back the core content requirements in each subject area, thereby liberating these teachers to design unique courses that reflect their personal passions and expertise. Taken together, these policies will lead to a more dynamic, rigorous, and exciting school with a culture of learning guided by entrepreneurial educators motivated to create the most exciting class the school has to offer.

So let us continue this love fest with teachers, but let’s not lose sight of the need to hire an entirely new breed of educator, driven by the passion and knowledge of their subject and prepared to empower students to take ownership of their learning, guided by educators who have been given the freedom to design their own innovative and challenging curricula. As a student, that’s the kind of school I would look forward to attending when I got up each morning.

No comments:

Post a Comment