First of all, thanks to Margaret for posting a great reading from Ecclesiasticus this morning. As someone often distressed by the nastiness in the blogosphere, I particularly liked this verse:
Do not find fault before you investigate; examine first, and then criticize. Do not answer before you listen, and do not interrupt when another is speaking. Do not argue about a matter that does not concern you, and do not sit with sinners when they judge a case.
Wise words. So hard to do.
One opinion I tried hard to listen to this week and found fascinating was this comment about the crazy way we compensate teachers. Such a hot-button issue, but I thought this made a lot of sense:
Work environments hospitable to continual innovation tend to have relatively low barriers to entry, and relatively low barriers to exit. Schools invert that. Many have extensive up-front credentialing requirements, forcing novice teachers to invest substantial time and money at the beginning of their careers, before they can even decide whether they are indeed well-suited for the job. Early career teachers tend to get the least desirable assignments, and to be paid barely enough on which to live. On the other hand, most compensation packages are grossly back-loaded, offering lock-step seniority raises and substantial retirement benefits. So it's tough to get in the door, and once you do, leaving entails abandoning the rewards for which you've already labored before you can enjoy them. That's crazy.
I hadn't thought of it that way.
In total nerd mode, I found these definitions of philosophers' names using their philosophies amusing. eg: voltaire, n. A unit of enlightenment. Yes, I know. Sad, really.
In movie news, I liked this Guide to Romance Cliches.
Teen romances have their own separate cliches. Actually, they have one separate cliche: teens from out of town find it hard to fit in so they start hanging around with social misfits or goths or beatniks or vampires suffering from social anxiety disorders.
Finally, if you have the time, here's a talk from one of the co-founders of Kiva. One of the things I like about this is that she speaks directly from the outset about how she was motivated to take up this work due to what she learned about Jesus in Sunday School. I think this could make an excellent Adult Education offering.
Still thinking of the conundrum of how to train teachers to teach and what to pay them to do it. I completely agree that young teachers draw low salaries and tough assignments, but I'm not sure about the rest of the analysis here.
On the one hand, high credentialing requirements may make it a hard profession to enter. On the other hand, whether or not those credentialing requirements seem high may depend on the contrast category - an MA and a teaching certificate may be more than it takes to start a small business, say, but are certainly still less than it takes to get the PhD to become a college professor. Any job that does not require a dissertation to get it and a book to keep it seems like a job that is pretty easy to enter to me!
On the one hand, the higher salaries and better pension packages that come with seniority in the system may be an incentive to keep teaching regardless of interest or ability. On the other hand, the same tenure system that makes it harder to fire bad teachers may also be the one that makes it easier for good teachers to take risks in the classroom for the sake of their students.
Sometimes innovation may come from the competitive pressure to succeed in an entrepreneurial environment, but I am still idealistic enough to believe that innovation can also come when and wherever a teacher feels safe enough to try something new. High salaries and generous retirement packages may sometimes encourage complacency, but I still believe this kind of financial security can also encourage the sort of engagement with a field and loyalty to a profession that encourage continuing innovation and experimentation for the pure pleasure of a job well and differently done.
ps - speaking of education, a friend just sent me a link to Diane Ravitch's New York Review of Books review of "Waiting for Superman" - you might find it interesting here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/?pagination=false
That's an excellent article. Thanks for passing it on. It articulates some of my own questions and experiences.
My own perspective on teaching in the public school comes from my years as a notetaker and interpreter for Deaf students. I saw LOTS of classroom and LOTS of teachers day to day, not just when they were being evaluated, and I can tell you that by and large, the teachers I saw were good to excellent. Yes, there were a few bad ones, but for the most part, teachers were professional, competent, and skilled.
I can also say, quite honestly, that the experienced ones were by and large better than the newer ones. The myth of the burnt-out, terrible tenured teacher seems oversold to me.
Still, the reason this training/pay suggestion resonated with me is because a number of the new teachers I saw were ill-informed about the subject they were teaching, and yet the teaching degree they did have didn't adequately prepare them for the work of teaching in an actual classroom. It seemed like the worst case scenario that kept people who might otherwise like to teach out of the field.
Personally, I would love to seem more, say, historians who love their subject teaching history and learning classroom management on the job. One of the best new teachers I know of was Dr. Sue Paden, a pharmacologist who left the FBI to become a science teacher at my high school--but needed a teaching credential to do so. Because a doctorate was not enough, you know. Maybe she would say that was useful. Honestly, knowing her, I'm not sure it made much difference.
From what I have seen, teaching was a skill (as well as a gift) that could be learned by doing. The degrees and certificates didn't seem to make much difference one way or the other as to whether or not one would be a good teacher.
Thank you for that long thoughtful response, which I found fascinating. The part where you talk about your favorite high school teacher makes me wonder if there's another aspect of the issue to consider here - whether it's easier or harder to get the job that you start out of school or the job that you want to switch into when you decide for whatever reason that it's time to do something else. Credentialing that might not seem like a big deal as an add-on right out of college might indeed come to seem like an almost insurmountable stumbling block as an addition to a busy professional life or a mandatory intermission between one job and another. What do you think?
To be honest, I really have no clue. OK, that's not true. I have a suspicion; I just don't have any rational data upon which to base it. I have seen a few people make the career switch from something else into teaching, but not many. My suspicion is that many people who would consider teaching look at the cost/benefit ratio and think it's not worth the time and effort to earn less money than they can earn in another field. But as I say, that's just a guess.
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