I have never been a teacher. I have never faced the day to day of standing in front of students and showing them the world. I can’t understand what that is really like, what each and every challenge feels like, how success can push you forward or failure can break your heart. I can’t understand what it is like to be a teacher. All I know is what I have been told, what I have seen and what I have experienced as a student. For me good teachers are heroes, capable of things I am afraid to attempt. Teachers are people of course, but growing up they seem like more than normal people and that has stuck with me to this day.
Teaching is a profession that is at once deified and vilified. Teachers are underpaid, overworked guardians of future. Teachers are lazy lifers who are in it for friendly hours and summers off. Teachers are noble, making sacrifices most would never make, saving people who nobody else can save, bringing light where there is darkness. Teachers fail to teach everyone to read, fail to work hard, fail to create people ready to produce in society. Today, I’m not so interested in the false dichotomy that plays in the media.
I’m interested in the profession and what it should be. First and foremost it is important to remember that teachers are people, like you and me, and have the same wants and desires as we do. Wanting to be paid more is not a bad thing. Wanting time off to go to Hawaii or Spain or wherever is not a bad thing. Being ambitious is not a bad thing. Wanting to be rewarded, supported, free and flexible are not bad things.
I want to pay teachers more because I want to attract the highest caliber people into the profession. Unless someone is independently wealthy money does factor into the decision making process of choosing a job. That isn’t an insult to the art of teaching. That is how the world works.
I want to advance the best teachers whether through higher pay, more powerful positions or some other kind of hierarchy. Recognizing who your best are and asking more of them, compensating them more, giving them more power and leeway, that is good human capital. That is making the most of your resources. Not every teacher needs to be ambitious. But those that wish to work their way up, to coach other teachers, to join in the policy discussions, to become principals and superintendents and thought leaders should do so.
I want a future President of the United States to be a former teacher from an urban school district. Why not? Republicans have a pipeline from the military to politics. Democrats should have the same pipeline from urban teaching corps to politics. Recruit a young, ambitious, socially conscious person out of college to serve our future as a teacher. Watch them flourish, mastering the art of teaching, working as part of a team, helping others better themselves. Watch them ascend and learn how to lead, how to manage, how to execute. Watch them learn all of the issues that face politicians today by actually experiencing those issues, seeing what poverty and unemployment do, seeing the dysfunction of bad government. They will master the politics of a school, of a neighborhood, of a ward, of a city, just like politicians do, just like military men and women do. They can join their local school team, then the school board, then the city council, then become mayor or state senator or governor, then to the national stage.
I want teachers who are so great they can do anything they want but they choose to teach. I want every individual teacher to be so valued that they hold power as individuals, able to say “I am so good that I am irreplaceable”.
I want college students to battle over scarce slots in teaching schools, worrying over difficult tests, intimidating interviews and convoluted essay questions to get into that top choice school that will set them up for future success.
I want alternative credential pathways to step up their game to ensure they are as good as the improving teaching schools, to make sure they don’t get left behind.
I want practitioners to go out of their way to learn to teach, to devote some of their time to sharing with others. I want ambitious thought leaders to help form the minds of tomorrow. I want them to do it for prestige, for networks, for recruiting their future heirs.
I want teaching to be a stepping stone, a pathway, a destination, an expectation.
I want teachers who learn to teach, can leave to go do something else they are passionate about, and are able to return, better for it and reenergized.
When I talk about alternative pay scales, accountability, data, recruitment, retention, teacher evaluation, the end of tenure and LIFO, I’m not talking about disrespecting the profession or destroying it. I’m talking about respecting the profession of teaching the way it should be respected. I’m talking about making the profession more powerful. I’m talking about treating teachers the way we tend to treat out best. Driving them hard for more success. Rewarding them well for being the best. Giving them freedom to explore. Supporting and nurturing their passions. Allowing them to stretch themselves. We do not do this now and in our never ending negotiation between management and labor it is both sides that are holding the profession back.