"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Where Have All the Good Teachers Gone?

This is not a bashing of those who are currently in the teaching profession. It is simply a rehash of what I heard from some people during the past week regarding teachers in the United States. It was "Gender Summit" after all in Washington, DC. The gender summit is a conference that discusses how both research and innovation are improved through inclusion of gender. It is both a celebration as well as a discussion of remaining challenges with regard to the role of women in science, technology and policy.

Photo captured from Gender Summit web site
The Gender Summits are dedicated to supporting and advancing excellence and effectiveness of research and innovation at all levels, through the inclusion of gender. 
Throughout my basic education years, clearly more than ninety-percent of the teachers I had were female. The situation in the United States is similar. The National Center for Education Statistics in the US reports the following in 2008:
Among full-time and part-time public school teachers in 2007–08, some 76 percent of public school teachers were female, 44 percent were under age 40, and 52 percent had a master’s or higher degree. Compared with public school teachers, a lower percentage of private school teachers were female (74 percent), were under age 40 (39 percent), and had a master’s or higher degree (38 percent).
It is true that in several areas in science, females are still underrepresented. But it is true that things are improving. The percentage of women in these pivotal roles are beginning to approach the percentage of women in the general population. Thus, opportunities for women have indeed changed during the past decades. These new career opportunities, of course, draw talent. One hypothesis then is that: Before, opportunities were quite limited. One of these few opportunities available to women is teaching. Thus, in the past decades while I was an elementary school student, due to few openings in other fields, bright and the "cream of the crop" female students in college chose teaching as their future profession. It is obvious then that the teaching profession must keep up with the opportunities that are now available. The teaching profession must be made more attractive than ever so that it continues to draw good people.

Within the educational setting itself, there is likewise competition for talent. Better pay and working conditions are now attracting teachers in the classrooms to a career of writing curriculum. Curriculum development pays better than teaching inside classrooms. Unfortunately, this activity is taking some of the more effective teachers away from the classroom. In American Prospect's article "The State of Work in the Age of Anxiety: The 40-Year Slump", one of the featured workers in the "age of anxiety" is a teacher, Kameelah Rasheed. Here is her story:

I’ve been involved with teaching, tutoring, and working with youths since I was about 11. I was in the Bay Area, in a small town called East Palo Alto. Even though it borders Stanford University, it wasn’t a town that was very affluent, and it wasn’t a town that people paid attention to insofar as providing programs and educational support. My little brother was in special education, and my mom would go to his class every single day and notice all these things that were going horribly wrong: classes that were too large, teachers who weren’t doing what they needed to do. She worked a long time to make things better. Seeing my mother advocate for my brother but also for other kids made me fall in love with the thought of teaching and working with kids.
I got scholarships to go to Pomona College in Claremont, California. I had a lot of people push me toward Ph.D. programs and law programs, and for a long time I worried that mentors felt like I let them down. Their questions were, “How did you come from a poor neighborhood and go to these great universities, and do so well at these universities, and win all these awards and then become a teacher?” The assumption was that if you are a black kid who made it to great colleges, you should not waste your time becoming something that anyone could become. You should spend your time becoming something that’s extraordinary. Teachers aren’t seen as extraordinary.
I got my master’s degree at Stanford in education and taught for two years at a charter school in California for $52,000 a year. Then in 2010, I moved to Brooklyn and started teaching history at another charter school. The first year my salary was $65,000, and thereafter it was $70,000. There is a hiring freeze for history teachers in New York City, so there’s no way for me to teach at a traditional public school here. Last year, I taught in East New York at a charter school designed for over-age, under-credit kids—kids who have been in and out of juvenile facilities, in and out of shelters and other social systems and programs. My salary was $65,000, and then I had a stipend on top, so it evened out to about $72,000. The bureaucracy of the school and the lack of transparency were difficult, and the inability of the administration to respond to the needs of kids was exhausting. Teachers would see the holes in the administration’s duties and fill them to make sure each kid has what he needs, even though you know it’s not your job and you don’t have the time to do it and attend to your personal needs.
I have student loans, but I’m very lucky because I got scholarships. I have $20,000 in interest-free loans I pay back to Pomona College. That’s $200 a month. I took out about $9,000 in loans from Stanford. In total, I have about $30,000 worth of loans, and they should be paid off in the next two years.
I was preparing to teach again this year, but this opportunity arose to develop curriculum and work with teachers on how to integrate technology for both traditional public schools and charter schools. The salary is $80,000. I’m going to help develop some curriculum around social studies, work with social-studies and English teachers at schools to help them know their curriculum, and figure out how to improve their teaching. I’m going to help them use Google apps to compile data and use these tools to make their days easier. Instead of inputting things into a grade book, they’ll be able to put in student scores in a Google app and then use the same system to generate a letter for parents, a letter for students, archive the information, and then share it among a wide cross section of people at the school level or at the district level.
This is an anecdote, yet it does help provide a better and fuller picture of what basic education is up against. It shows why it is truly urgent that society does something with the teaching profession.

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