11/10/2010 05:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Another Vague Plan, Part Two: "Professionalizing Teachers"

[This entry is founded upon my personal philosophy of education and does not represent the views of staff and board of the Salvadori Center.]

Continuing my review of Klein et alia's Manifesto, I'd like to talk about "professionalizing teaching." In the Manifesto, the authors contend that they need to take up the work of "professionalizing teaching." It is insulting to teachers to say that they need to be professionalized. Especially when many of the professionals who are saying this have never been teachers themselves. Teachers are professionals, even though their union may undermine this in many ways. However, the problem of professionalization does not only reside with teachers. We have to also look at administrators -- as related colleagues -- and once again, the larger societal picture.

Did you know that when principals are evaluated in New York City (for their version of tenure) they need only receive a rating of 60 percent to be considered satisfactory? In what other profession does 60 percent equal well-prepared? A principal operating at 60 percent is trusted to make decisions about programs, budgets, teachers, and children. Really? I learned this little fact while sitting in a room with 12 other parents, our district superintendent, and no less than five members of the NYC DOE "management team." We had brought an action against the principal of our children's school who was allowing questionable discipline practices while also marginalizing (punishing?) creative (or, you could say "most-beloved") teachers. Completely without expression, our superintendent explained the grading guidelines and while all the parents were aghast at the 60 percent rule, not of the bureaucrats seemed to be. Wait, isn't this Joel Klein's school system? What kind of accountability is this? But I digress. I'm using this example to demonstrate that standards for both teachers and administrators need to be reconsidered. But again, it must be done so through the lens of societal values. We cannot really have a conversation about the practice of education without looking at the value of education.

In our culture, education is not necessarily valued -- certainly not as compared to numerous other developed nations. Therefore, we have to ask why our culture doesn't necessarily value education, or rather, why it doesn't value it equally for everyone, only then can we examine how and why teacher and administrator standards are what they are. Often this conversation of value gets pushed aside for the "sexier" discussion of teacher pay. Obviously, this has a place in the conversation, since pay is related to who and what we value, and since teacher pay varies from district to district -- and those variations are directly related to the socio-economics of a district. (See earlier discussion of structural violence in part one of this response). Putting remuneration aside, and speaking from experience, I can say that teaching is difficult. And it is important. I also know that being a leader is difficult and it is important. But how can folks be expected to do their jobs when our society continually dismisses the field/practice of education with the ole "noble and difficult profession" talk.

Using the "structural violence paradigm" lens, education becomes difficult to "do" when not all children and parents see it as important. At one point in time, among certain classes of people, schooling (K-12) led to more education (university) and thus to solid employment, although, that was not the path for everyone. For some, schooling (K-12), led to a trade and thus solid employment, another decent option. And for others, schooling (K through ?) didn't provide much opportunity. Today, especially among the underclass, schooling (K-12, hopefully) will quite possibly lead no-where, so kids respond by aspiring to be pop stars or professional athletes instead! In a society where immediate gratification and materialism reign supreme, it's hard to get kids to buy-in to the value of education, especially if they know that their education has less "value" than that of their suburban counterparts. Opportunity begets opportunity and if ones opportunities are limited from the start, then creation of unrealistic or even illegal opportunities become an answer. This to me seems like a cyclical reality that can only be broken with equal educational opportunity that requires a re-conception of the value of education first, then a re-conception of the practice of education.