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.