A Master’s Degree Can’t be This Easy! A Proposal to Improve Teacher Prestige

577736727_0ca0e96070Maybe 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.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “A Master’s Degree Can’t be This Easy! A Proposal to Improve Teacher Prestige

  1. E

    I completely concur. I am about to begin my last semester of classwork prior to student teaching (I am a undergrad working toward a BA in history/education). However, I am retired military where I worked as an analyst. As I coasted through my education classes I was surprised at how simple they were. I was surprised there was no real effort needed intellectually. It was comprised of creating mediocre lesson/unit plans and utilizing technology. I have a 4.0 in my education minor which should say a lot. Unfortunately, I still feel completely unprepared to enter the classroom.

    If education wants to improve the perception of teachers it definitely needs to start where teachers are produced. At my school, a freshman only needs a 2.5 to enter the education program and by his/her first review needs to have a 2.75 (which must be maintained to graduate). Entrance requirements should be rigorous. I believe that some form of “peer evaluation” should also be conducted because I know there are many fellow students I would never trust in a classroom! If this is the caliber of teacher we’re going to have in my area and state, I will probably move to another state!

    I think the two pillars of the education program should be classroom management/organization and lesson/unit planning (educational strategies). Yet we only had one class in each of these areas, neither of which was extensive enough (no fault of the professors I might add. However, the classes should also be divided into primary & secondary educators. In my educational strategies class the instructor spent 20+ years in grade schools and the majority of the class were going to be grade school teachers so much of what she discussed did me no good). The rest of the classes I took were, at the sake of sounding arrogant, worthless as a whole.

    I’m considering going to grad school right after graduation and my school only requires a 650 on the GRE (test score + GPA x 100). Since I have a 3.5 GPA, obtaining a 650 should not be that difficult. Yet another sign of mediocrity within education.

    Bottom line? If we want the same respect as doctors and lawyers (which I think is laughable), then we need to require the same tough standards and start keeping people out of education rather than just accepting everyone. You know, it kind of reminds me of the U.S. Marines. They don’t accept everyone. They have high standards and tough training. Yet just about every year, they meet their recruitment goals and are turning people away. Are we afraid if we increase standards and the academic regimen we won’t be able to get enough teachers? I disagree. But I’ll stop here.

  2. blighter

    Couple of essays on teacher education that I recently came across, thought you might find interesting in light of your post.

    – Jay Matthews, the Wash. Post’s education-beat reporter, on a lady going through Stanford’s education master’s program. They apparently tried everything they could to drum her out or black-list her with employers b/c 1) she had a blog and 2) she disagrees with the reigning progressive orthodoxy of education programs:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/07/they_messed_with_the_wrong_blo.html

    — This one’s an older piece by Heather McDonald of the Manhattan institute entitled “Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach”. She blames it on an overwhelming obssession with various intellectual fads to a near-total disregard of concrete knowledge and practical ways to impart it to students. Much of her descriptions of education programs sounded, to me, reminscent of your intellectually un-stimulating final project/collage:

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/8_2_a1.html

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  4. Troen and Boles’ book explains the very issues you mention:

    http://educationanddeconstruction.com/?p=180

  5. EducationMA

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. In fact, this phenomenon scares me on a daily basis. You see I have an B.S. undergrad in Biology and Chemistry. We had to work, think, and produce. Now that I’ve moved on in life and consequently into a graduate program in education…I’m appalled at what other majors are allowed to get away. I keep rewriting the same papers and turning them in with just minor changes! Why not? It’s the same boneheaded material in every class. 😦

  6. Jake

    I find it amusing that everyone seems to feel they have to work down to the standards of what they deem sub-par education. I’m not saying the premise is incorrect, just kind of funny to listen to people complain about how easy things are and how little they are pushing themselves

  7. Lynsi

    I believe the master’s education program is what you make of it. I was a zoology major as an undergraduate where there was a lot of memorization, testing, and extensive research. At first, I believed my education program was easier without all the test and the reflection. But to be a truly great educator you must put in the time and effort to be great. I know some teachers don’t write lesson plans. I spend two days researching to create something relevant and interesting for students to do even if it isn’t necessarily for classroom use. The time I spent reflecting on my teaching practice I used to improve my teaching and learn from my mistakes. And I did all of the reading. If you think your teaching program is ‘bullshit’ and you find your profession easy, maybe it is time to find another job. You are doing a disservice to your students.

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  9. Pingback: Can We Keep it This Simple?: A Response to Amy Weisberg’s Huffington Post Article on Education | Mr. D's Neighborhood

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