THE BLOG

The Best and Brightest Will Never Teach

02/02/2011 07:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Hire the best and brightest". After all, that's what they do in Finland and Korea and look at their international test score results. That's what McKinsey and Co. found. The fundamental problem with this premise is that the best and the brightest college graduates -- the one's whose parents pay $250,000 for their college education -- don't want to work for a starting salary of $40,000 with the hopes of one day making not quite six figures. They'll go work at McKinsey and produce more such reports instead. Even the innovative teacher compensation models, such as The Equity Project and IMPACT in DC, have teachers only making a fraction of what they could make in private industry.

I remember my first teacher contract. It was 1994 in LAUSD. The union had just negotiated me a 10 percent raise even though I never taught a day in my life. I was set to make $32,500 a year. My friends who were teaching in Compton thought I was a king -- they were making $26K -- and they were some of the best and the brightest -- they're also not teaching anymore (neither am I).

It's simple capitalist economics. As teachers, we constantly sell our students on the American Dream. With education, anyone can be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates (both college drop-outs). My favorite line as a teacher was, "Microsoft has made more millionaires than the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL combined." It was true in the 90's, but not so sure today. A student of mine, a perceptive smart-ass, once shot back, "Or you can just be a teacher." Ouch.

Sure, I sacrificed the opportunity to get a $100 million golden parachute like Eric Schmidt at Google or be one of the 860 partners at Goldman last year who cashed a total of $20 billion in stock options, but I tried my darndest to have my students believe that could be them - even though I didn't want it for myself. I wouldn't trade my 16 years in public education for anything, but who wouldn't mind an opportunity at a fraction of what I've highlighted above. With that said, my sense for making a difference in this world is still stronger than my sense for making a fortune (sorry, Honey!).

I recently toured the Google campus, dined with their 20,000 employees who all eat free gourmet food prepared fresh every day, go to their free gym with free trainers, and commute back and forth to work on free Google buses. I remember the one time where the food in the teacher's cafeteria was free - Teacher Appreciation Day. The cafeteria workers did their best to dress up the same food the students ate, but it was still barely edible. I left Google that day with the feeling that the best and the brightest will never go into teaching and if they do, they won't stay. If they stay, they've lost their shot at this seemingly utopian place to work. They've lost their shot at stock options and private jets. Even if they aren't qualified and could never get a job to put them in this position -- the hope is still there. Fortune magazine recently named the Best Companies to work for in 2010. Even though they technically aren't eligible, I don't see a school district ever making that list.

Consigning oneself to being a teacher is an acquiescence that material wealth is not as important as the betterment of society and I'm not convinced that the best and brightest are actually smart enough to make that choice. I'm also not convinced that if teachers made seven figure salaries with incredible benefits, that we'd get the type of person in the classroom we need. Just because someone is the top of their class at an elite private university doesn't mean they have the compassion, empathy, creativity, talent, and resiliency to teach.

So why won't the best and brightest go into teaching and stay?
1. Money and the potential to be able to afford a home.
2. Working in a place where they are valued by everyone and can use their intelligence, creativity and discretion to be supported in doing what works as opposed to being mandated from above.
3. Esteem - People may say teachers are the most important job in the world, but wouldn't wish it upon their own children.
4. The best and the brightest were those successful in the traditional model of schooling with the traditional models of instruction. They often times lack the perspective that learning for many kids is hard and that the old tried and true methods are always tried, but rarely true.