Anyone Can Teach… Except Teachers

The popular narrative is that unionized teachers are destroying public education because of our supposed low standards for performance, laziness, and constant cries for more pay and less work.

States across the country, including Washington, buckled down on teacher performance by reforming the teacher evaluation system to be more rigorous and standards-based. New academic standards were adopted and new tests were designed to measure just how bad we teachers are at teaching, in many cases with the stated purpose of those tests to be to identify and remove bad teachers.

We’re so bad at teaching despite our degrees and training in this complex work, in fact, that the current fashion in education policy is that anyone…ANYONE has to be better at teaching than teachers are.

As you might have seen, states like Arizona are launching policy referred to as the “warm body” approach for teacher recruitment: The main qualification for earning a teaching credential being that you are a carbon-based life form capable of sustaining metabolism.

Even here in Washington, “alternative routes to certification” are gaining traction as more and more classrooms are being staffed by teachers with an emergency credential because of the dearth of capable applicants.

Let’s break this down: Because so few people are choosing to become teachers on purpose, we’re satisfied with taking whomever we can get…and we think this is a solution to our problem?

Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t the unionized teachers demanding better policy and pay who are the problem here. I wonder what will it take for our policymakers…or as importantly, us as a society…to recognize that effective teaching involves a set of complex skills and behaviors which, even in the best of conditions, involves countless variables that must all be managed and responded to on a moment-by-moment basis. It is not something random folks off the street can do well, particularly if those random folks can get paid better to do other, perhaps easier, work. Clearly, we’re not dealing with “the best of conditions” in our schools, so putting a warm body in front of kids is not going to be the solution to our problem, no matter what evaluation system we use or what rigorous standards we demand be taught.

The solutions are the same solutions they have always been: It isn’t about stricter evaluations, higher standards, or better tests. We have to invest money, and more than we think, in order to turn this ship around. We can’t spend a dime and expect a dollar’s return…and then complain because we actually got what we paid for and not more.

If we aren’t willing to make schools as workplaces into the kinds of places where the very best and brightest are not only drawn but want to stay, then we don’t actually care about improving educational outcomes for kids. The latter will never happen without the former.

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5 thoughts on “Anyone Can Teach… Except Teachers

  1. Irene Smith

    I agree that “effective teaching involves a set of complex skills and behaviors which, even in the best of conditions, involves countless variables that must all be managed and responded to on a moment-by-moment basis.” It takes special folks to be effective educators. Still, putting dollars to the problem has not always proved the answer to improving student learning. Simply put, there needs to be a mindset in our communities, and particularly with the children we teach, that learning is the important work we do together and we respect others and do our part in that joyful work. In a climate of fear and punishment, no one performs well.

  2. Mandy

    In the closing of your post, Mark, you make an important observation – while funding is essential, I believe that one key factor in teacher retention and recruitment is respect. Teachers are vilified on a near-daily basis – this alone hinders people from joining the profession. After all, why would you want to be part of profession that is stressful, doesn’t pay as much as other professions with not nearly as rigorous credential requirements, and is disrespected by many in our society? Thanks, again, for this important post.

  3. Tom White

    No one in Olympia wants to admit it, but ultimately it all boils down to money.

  4. Spencer Olmsted

    Well said Mark. It’s a wonder that this simple funding formula needs to be stated, but sadly it does. A high quality work environment with commensurate salaries brings highly qualified people to the profession. The warm body approach seems like sabotage. Having been in school as a student doesn’t qualify you to understand the teaching profession in the same way that being a kid doesn’t really prepare you to be a parent.

  5. Jan Kragen

    Or having paid taxes doesn’t qualify you to write tax legislation. As we’ve seen in this state again and again.

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