It's Valentines Day and it appears we need some serious national instruction on wooing.
Although many things remain unclear about America's education woes and their solutions, one thing seems crystal clear: We need more and more highly capable folks to become teachers. But why on Earth would any young person in her right mind aspire to the teaching profession? The stark reality is that policy makers and pundits have rendered the teaching profession so unappealing that only the desperately romantic, just plain desperate, or deeply masochistic young person would find it attractive.
The national policy discussion is rife with accusations that teachers are at the root of the current problems. Whether by railing broadly against teacher unions or citing the rare anecdote of a truly lousy teacher, the profession looks more and more like a place to avoid. The possibilities that might draw bright, committed men and women to teaching -- love of children, the chance to profoundly change lives, the joy of igniting a spark of curiosity or creativity -- are increasingly frustrated by standardized curricula and meaningless measures of so-called accountability.
Compensation is low and not getting better. Many districts are cutting positions because, in part, necessary resources do not accompany high-minded national rhetoric. Good citizens in revenue-strapped cities and towns from coast to coast listen to big shots talk about the importance of education to our national future, and then struggle to balance local budgets in the face of declining property tax revenue, reduced state aide and unfunded mandates. Class sizes are increasing. Families suffering unemployment, underemployment, poverty and the resulting stressors are sending more and more children to school without the emotional or social systems in place to support their learning.
Job security? Fuggetaboutit. Unions are the devil. Tenure is an unspeakable evil. Proposals for merit pay are bandied about as though financial incentives will drive better practices. Merit pay actually drives poor practices and forces teachers, who historically value collaboration and community, into resentment and suspicion. The dirty little secret of merit pay proposals is that they are never accompanied by any money. That means the already shrinking pie will simply be divided unevenly, leaving any particular teacher with the real probability of flat or reduced pay. And then, of course, the greatest wooing of all: public accountability. Let's publish teacher evaluations in the newspaper!
Teaching is perhaps the only profession where nearly everyone thinks they know more about it than you do. Our Secretary of Education has not been a teacher. The New York City Schools Chancellor never taught. Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the others who use the bully pulpit they bought to influence education have never taught a lick. But they all know better than you do. School board members who were elected to "crack down" on the school know better than you do. Every parent, having experienced an education, therefore knows more about it than you do, and will not hesitate to let you know about it.
So, let's see how this stacks up on the wooing front. Would you like to go out? We'll go to dinner at a place with only one item on the menu. Sorry, you may have tastes but you can't pick. Also, Dutch treat, ok? I'm a little strapped this month. Commitment? Well, I might call you in the morning, but I'm just checking you out and don't want you think I'm looking for a long-term relationship. Long-term relationships just make folks lazy. Marriage? You kidding me? I'm giving you no guarantees. Oh, by the way, I plan to publish an assessment of our date on my blog. So, what time should I pick you up?
Happy Valentine's Day!