Maybe I was the exception, but the easiest time I had at school was the two years when I earned my Masters Degree.
Coming out of an elite northeastern college, I had expected graduate education to be of the “Beautiful Mind” type: overcompetitive scientist/historian/scholar types with stuffy professors that smoke pot and screw their teaching assistants–oh, wait, that was college. Well, grad school school was supposed to be more of the same: rigorous academic research, meticulous papers, brutal feedback, tweed jackets.
“Rigorous” would not describe my teaching degree program. Papers that would have gotten belly laughs at the Georgetown sociology department were getting plaudits and “A’s.” I coasted through many of the classes without reading any of the books. By the last semester, I hadn’t bought a single book. Classroom discussion descended into bitching sessions about students, administrators, parents–definitely important, but not entirely suitable for a graduate classroom.
This wouldn’t be much of a problem twenty years ago. Yet today, with the insistence of higher teacher standards, accountability, and especially the inevitable demise of summer vacation, education has to take a hard look in the mirror. We need to get our own house in order so that we can demand the concessions we deserve, such as commensurate pay and benefits.
I know I won’t make friends with this column, but it is necessary for the future of our profession. Teaching, for all its rewards, has a severe image problem. Teachers get into the profession because it is “easy.” They only work 10 months a year. If they were smarter, they’d make more money in a “real” job. In short, teaching has very little respect in America.
Much, though not all, of the blame has to do with one aspect of this profession. Getting an education degree is entirely too easy.
Historically, teacher education has gotten the shaft because of its evolution as a “woman’s” job. Unlike other professions such as the law or medicine, teaching has not had a long history of focused professionalization. The first teaching schools were called “normal schools” meant to teach women (and some men) the ins and outs of education and working with children. As they developed into the first education schools, these institutions still carried the “stigma” associated with a female-oriented profession. Thus their lack of resources, funding and respect.
This still exists today, and it revolves around two key issues. The first is ease of entry: aside from a handful of select programs, such as Teachers’ College (TC) at Columbia University, education programs are not known to be particularly selective, at least from an academic standpoint. This is why many people who have not found much success in other areas come to education. If education is filled with the leftovers of economic progress, it is no wonder teachers lack respect in the wider community.
Once a person is in a graduate program, though, the experiences vary in terms of rigor, focus and utility. Many of the older, more established programs such as TC have coupled the classical methods of theory and analysis with workshops of curriculum development and classroom management. The vast majority of programs, however, are moving toward the workshop model. This gives needed help to the rookie teacher, but it can’t be described as academically rigorous.
In fact, if there was a word that described education programs, it would be “tedious.” There is a lot of work, but none of it is truly of the hard-nosed, rigorous research that would merit an academic journal. Take my final project, for example–a hodgepodge of papers, lesson plans, and “reflections” meant to show my “growth” as an educator. This task of accumulation and cataloging was a pain in my ass, but not intellectually stimulating. In fact, it was more of an exercise in bullshit, as many of my colleagues never even did their lesson plans, having students write out “work” hastily to show “evidence” of classroom instruction.
In any other setting, such work would merit expulsion. That’s the problem. If teachers want to argue for a pay on par with our academic credentials, then we should have academic credentials worth fighting for. Our profession has more graduate degrees than almost any other, people like Harry Wong like to crow. Yet degrees work on supply and demand as well; if everyone can get one, it isn’t worth anything.
Doctors, lawyers, even MBAs get more because society values their work more. Its harder to enter these professional schools, and the work is often more rigorous. Teachers work much harder, in many cases. Yet they will never get the respect of these other professions if training is so easy to obtain and complete. It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth.
One might argue that this will lead to severe teacher shortages. This may be true, but ask yourself this: do you want to risk a classroom of children with someone who is underqualified and undereducated? Believe me, if education programs become more rigorous and selective nationwide, all teachers will benefit. Salaries will soar. Opportunities will abound. Our profession will enjoy a respect it has never had before.
All comments and critiques are welcome.