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We Need Young People to Become Teachers

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A few months ago, I sent The Huffington Post the blog that became the most widely read piece of writing I have ever done, titled, "A Warning to Young People: Don't Become a Teacher."

In that blog post -- which ironically was published one day after I taught for the last time -- I recommended that young people not become teachers. I talked about how much teachers have been devalued by the so-called "reformers" and by politicians. I talked about all of the different attacks that have been made on teachers' professions, their pay, tenure and even how they manage their classrooms.

The blog was republished by HuffPost about a month ago, and it now has more than 300,000 Facebook likes.

And it is still being talked about.

A couple of days ago, I came across a post from Stories from School, an Arizona blog, that questioned my premise that people who are just out of high school should not consider entering the teaching profession. It is a well-written post and offers many reasons why young people should consider teaching.

So perhaps now is the time that I should make it absolutely clear: I want people to become teachers. We cannot survive as a nation if intelligent, hard-working, dedicated young people do not enter the classroom -- but we have to do more than just tell them the good things they will get out of teaching.

The purpose of my post, and perhaps it did not come across in the way in which I intended, is that we have to make changes now or the teaching profession is going to be left to the drones and to the cheap Teach for America youngsters who come in, teach two years, do not have to be paid benefits and then make way for the next Teach for America group.

Now is the time to begin correcting the problems that have made teachers' lives miserable over the past several years.

How do we that? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Continue to build the pressure against the standardized tests that have taken so much life out of teachers' existence and so much joy of learning from students. Not only do we need to continue to ramp up the opt-out movement, but it is time for people on the left and right to team together on one issue on which they agree, though for different reasons -- either stop Common Core Standards or revise them in such a way where teachers actually do have a more prominent role in their writing or where the tests have a less prominent (preferably non-existent) role in the evaluation of teachers.
  • Make sure that the public understands something that many politicians either do not understand or do not care about: If you take away benefits such as tenure, pension and collective bargaining, you are not sending a signal that you want to have excellent teachers in the classroom.
  • Expose Teach for America for what it is. It started as a noble idea, though a misguided one, and has become a political movement that has a program that defies logic. You cannot train for six weeks to become a classroom teacher and be a good one. Some have talent and will survive, often with the help of teachers who received considerably more training. Some will become long-term classroom teachers. Most of them, however, will be gone once the two-year commitment has ended. I would love to see the outrage that would come from Teach for America proponents if Medicine for America sent doctors into the hospital with six weeks training and then had to bring in a new group of physicians two years later. If the idea that it does not take much training to become a teacher ever catches on, we are guaranteeing there will never again be excellent teachers in our schools.
  • End the current practice of hiring administrators who have little or no classroom experience. Most of us who are over 40-years-old can recall a time when people became building principals and upper-level administrators after spending several years in the classroom. Now we have a couple of generations of administrators who ditched the classroom at the first opportunity to go into administration. While many of these people are excellent administrators, there are even more who are willing to build their own resumes by inflicting one new untested program after another on classroom teachers. We have also created legions of administrators who seem to have built their management styles on outdated business books and add to the stress classroom teachers face by inflicting a never-ending series of meetings and paperwork, with much of it leading to no discernible goal, except, of course, to make these administrators feel useful.
  • Back the teachers by showing a backbone and providing discipline in their buildings. When you hear an administrator bragging about how disciplinary statistics are improving, you should always check to see if his or her nose is growing. When statistics improve dramatically, it is usually a sign that definitions have been changed so that many transgressions will not be counted against the total, or that teachers are being bullied into not writing referrals because they will be written up for lack of discipline on their evaluations. At my last school, we were required to have seven classroom referrals (which do not count on the school's discipline statistics) before we could send a student to the principal. We were given a list of things that should be handled in the classroom and that list included many things which only 10 to 15 years ago would have brought an automatic trip to the principal's office. We don't have to have zero tolerance policies, just firm, consistent discipline.

It is nothing short of a miracle that we still have so many excellent classroom teachers in our schools. We cannot expect that to continue.

I want young people to become classroom teachers. The first step toward making that a reality is to let teachers know they are wanted and valued.

It is time that the only ones who are treated like children in our schools are the children.