Monday, October 15, 2012

Powerful But Sad

The Huffington Post shared an essay I found compelling, honest, and hard-hitting.  ( ). 
Many of us enter the profession of teaching for all the right reasons.  After a few years we discover that grading, attendance-taking, meetings covering information best fit for an email, and all sorts of housekeeping activities keep us from doing what we love most.  How many times have we heard colleagues say, “If only I had the time to just teach!”  And what does that “teaching” look like when we have the chance?  Very often it means responding to kids’ ideas and getting into deep, thoughtful conversations about them – and that is not in the curriculum, nor on the test.  So we sacrifice the teachable moment, the opportunity to embark on authentic learning, and pursue further content coverage.  Eventually the pressures and demands wear on us and too many great teachers leave the classroom.  

Edgerton’s article offers up a thoughtful definition of a professional:
A professional is a certified expert who is afforded prestige and autonomy in return for performing at a high level, which includes making complex and disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty. Professionals deserve to live comfortably, but they do not enter the ranks of a profession in order obtain wealth or power; they do it out of a calling to serve.”

Are teachers professional by this definition?  Prestige?  Autonomy?  In my experience I must admit that these two characteristics are possible.  I have had them.  Not every teacher has prestige or autonomy, but we can find schools and communities where this exists.  Complex decisions in conditions of uncertainty?  That is teaching – daily, hourly.  Live comfortably?  I find the keys are salary relative to cost of living, willingness to work long, long hours September through June and the possibility of a highly paid partner.   Of course that last point shows that teachers, for the most part don’t quite measure up on this metric.  Ultimately, I contend teachers are professionals in some places and not in others, sometimes only miles apart.  

The concern then is what to do if you have your two or three college degrees, a wide range of communication skills, a strong work ethic, a desire to make a difference in the world, a need to provide for your family and a hope for great working conditions, autonomy, professionalism, and efficacy.  Can you stay in teaching?  Can we change schools so that such people want to become and remain teachers?

Edgerton has an interesting idea:
“You have teachers teaching in a school. And that's really about the only thing that goes on. One of those teachers is selected as an instructional leader, by peers. These leaders continue to teach at least one class. Then you start dividing up responsibilities usually handled by administration. Who orders books? A classroom teacher. Who writes the curriculum? A classroom teacher. Who handles discipline? A classroom teacher.

No matter how much we regulate, we will always have to trust our teachers to be our surrogate parents, to take our children for an hour or six a day, to protect them, and to mold them into better people. Teachers matter more than superintendents, more than senators, and more than businessmen. They make us who we are. Teachers are the ones who make the day-to-day decisions for the future of our entire nation, and we must start trusting them again.”

What an idea!  Do any of you know of such an attempt?  Where are the schools that have the least administrative overhead and greatest teacher responsibility?  Are there cultures that do it this way?  Korea?  Finland?  Singapore? Private school or charter schools? 

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