Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teach!

Sharon Liao is a history major at Columbia University who is concerned that elite colleges and universities are discouraging graduates from pursuing careers as K-12 teachers.  Here is a taste of her article at The Washington Post:

Working at a campus calling center this year, I spoke on the phone with hundreds of Columbia alumni, many of whom work in finance, health care, law or media. My elite, expensive school tells me in subtle ways that the “best” students pursue those sorts of fields. No matter how noble it may be to educate tomorrow’s leaders, or how accomplished an individual teacher may be, that person will never earn the social prestige or compensation that professionals do in many other fields.

Alumni who had gone into teaching asked whether I really want to teach or had considered the likely disrespect, insufficient pay, long hours and lack of autonomy that go with the job.

In short, I’m being scared out of teaching by teachers. And it seems reasonable to ask: Who wants to pursue a career in which they won’t be appropriately respected or compensated? 

On one hand, it is shame that some of the best college students in the country are not considering careers in education. This does not surprise me.  Fewer and fewer undergraduates seem to be devoting themselves to selfless lives in service of the public good.  Why teach when you can make much more money doing something else?  I wonder how much this has to do with increasing narcissism among the millennial generation.

On the other hand, young people may be discouraged from teaching by an educational system that has replaced classroom creativity and intellectual inquiry with standardized tests and state requirements.

1 comment:

Michael Hattem said...

"I wonder how much this has to do with increasing narcissism among the millennial generation."

I saw one comment on the WP website where someone called the young woman an elitist and a narcissist. That comment was, of course, highly unfair. I don't buy that this generation is any more narcissistic than previous generations. Social media perhaps makes it appear so, but even if they are, I also don't buy that that is why young people are not attracted to secondary-level teaching. If they're at all politically aware, they see news reports constantly of politicians vilifying teachers' unions and, even worse, teachers themselves. Why would anyone want to go into an underfunded, underpaid profession just to be a punching bag for right-wing ideologues/politicians? It makes all the sense in the world when one considers the political and economic realities that less and less people see teaching as an attractive job. And it's not narcissism that they would do so. I'm sure, like this young woman, there are many in that generation who, were it not for the situation described above, would seriously consider teaching as a vocation.

This might be a bit cynical or even conspiratorial, but by creating a situation in which talented people avoid the profession and talented people already within it leave, the plan seems to be that there will be less and less quality teachers around whom you can then pay less while biding time until the quality of education gets so bad that you can then argue that the public school system is a failure and win over public attention and government funding on charter and private schools owned by corporations.