I just attended commencement ceremonies for the college of education at Towson University. I had a couple of thoughts, not necessarily having anything to do with the graduates themselves.
First, in honor of the tough job market many of these teachers face (see the BLS for detailed projections), we need to restructure the education workforce. From looking at the labor statistics, it appears as if teachers in high needs areas–urban and rural schools, math and science or STEM content areas–are going to have the easiest time finding jobs. Now, why don’t we offer programs with specific strands in urban education or STEM content? Why just a general ELED degree? All right, so what I’m saying is allow programs to be a bit more flexible to meet the actual demand of specific kinds of teachers. I cannot say how this would be done, but just a thought. Additionally, we need to think about how to give educators something else to do. It seems all we have to offer is classroom teaching and administration, and those are entirely different tracks. Could we have degree programs or professional development that prepares and pays higher wages to specialists, mentors, curriculum consultants, teacher trainers, rotating experts, something like that? I know some districts have some of these kinds of positions, but getting educators on an alternative career track, offering the ability to specialize, would be interesting.
Second, I hear a lot about teachers being inspirational, the lighting of candles in children’s hearts, noble, and self-sacrificing, all of that. That kind of rhetoric just does not rev me up. I kind of don’t like it, to be honest, because all of this lip service paid to teaching, the salaries are still ridiculously low relative to other careers that require BA and MA degrees. There is an extremely high proportion of women educators, and issues of salary and status of the profession are important causes. I think certain careers, like nursing, push the whole nobility issue because they know they’re not going to get paid very well or do not have nearly as much prestige as, say, actual physicians or administrators. And I’m trying hard not to be too cynical. But I do know that students are held over our heads all the time. If we don’t stay until 8 at night, do home visits, spend every waking our of my day thinking about my classroom, then I’m not a good teacher, or I’m less of a person. It’s almost a confusing conflation between being a parent and a teacher. There’s a lot to this, but I’m rambling. If you know a graduate, congratulate them today. If they’re a new teacher, give them five bucks.