A Year Ago
I can count on one hand the number of educators I've met (in real life or around here) who believe that hard work trumps passion in this job, that the latter follows the former, that caring's the easy part, that "passion" has become loosely defined through overuse. And even then I'd have three fingers I wouldn't know what to do with.
Our shot at professional credibility still seems like a long one but in the week preceding my last post I read some extremely encouraging assessments of teaching's present and future state. I bring you excerpts.
Marc Dean Millot
Marc Dean Millot puts the professionalism angle to rest with an outstanding twofer:
- Teaching Should Be a Legally-Recognized Profession, But It's Not
- Why Legally Recognized Professionalism is Necessary to Reasonable Teacher Accountability
His model of peer review is a stunning display of good sense.
Assume a teacher is charged with the educational equivalent of malpractice after a half dozen students failed to achieve proficiency as measured by state tests. The educator’s case would be reviewed by his peers, against a standard of care established by teachers, applied to the circumstances surrounding these six students.
Like a lawyer or doctor, he would not be accountable for student failure per se. The professional question would be whether this teacher did what any teacher should have done in this situation with these students.
What a teacher "should" do will obviously be the subject of intense debate, but the question is far from unanswerable.
He ends with a glance at my bedside diary:
It seems to me that teachers should not only welcome this approach to a review of their individual performance; they should be clamoring for it.
Over at The Faculty Room, Grant Wiggins places blame for teacher attrition on the equal compensation (financial and otherwise) enjoyed by good and bad teachers alike, as imposed by their union, which, of course, puts this all back on NCLB.
We will never attract the best and brightest in large numbers under typical school working conditions. And as long as union contracts keep up the fiction that we are equals, that we are “all” professionals, then teachers will be treated more as laborers than experts with appropriate executive control over important decisions. (Don’t you see that as long as we are all equals, there can never be 6-figure pay for the really excellent among us?) We are going to need 2 million teachers soon. Anyone who truly values creative control, collegial collaboration, and professional decision-making opportunities would properly think twice about teaching as a career – even if those of us who still think of teaching as a calling are offended.
The president of the Washington Teachers' Union offers a self-recriminating op-ed which goes just to the line of saying, "Our priorities have sucked."
As president of the Washington Teachers' Union, I have a duty to represent more than 4,000 teachers. I also have a responsibility to work with our schools chancellor to improve the learning environment for students and teachers. At times it may appear that my duties of teacher advocacy and management collaboration conflict, which is not the case. The old-school paradigm of union rigidity must give way to a new-school approach of working productively with school leaders to improve student achievement.
Sarah Weisz worries we scare off a lot of talent by obliterating "training" at the expense of "calling" in this job.
When we think about attracting new people to the profession, people who may want very much to teach without feeling “born to teach,” I think it’s important that we make a place in the rhetoric for them, too.
To dramatically improve schools, we need to transform the profession—making it attractive to thinkers and do-ers.
Maybe We're Better Off Without Them
I won't ask you to alter your vision for this job to reflect mine. I won't even put a value — positive or negative — on either vision. I will make two closing claims, though:
- You likely overestimate the intersection of those visions. It makes sense to me — intellectually and anecdotally — that the teachers who are most motivated by the intangible rewards of this job will most resent tangible assessments of their performance. Moreover, whatever improbable combination of the two you harbor in your heart, the predominate rhetoric surrounding teaching emphasizes intangible calling over tangible training.
- Both groups inflict profit and loss on teaching but, put plainly, any corps that emphasizes emotional feelgoodery over the scientific method (to the overwhelming extent that teaching has) will suffer the endless resignation of effective, coldhearted curmudgeons.