Make Teaching Attractive Not Ugly

If one wants to attract the best talented people to teaching, the recipe is to make teaching attractive.

But that recipe concocted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is not what is happening in teacher training programs.  Gordon Ramsay, where are you?

This week I drove out to CSUN for a three-hour late afternoon meeting with other cooperating teachers (those who work with student teachers), a rare chance to share triumphs and challenges of assisting up and coming instructors.

Instead of having a forum with free-flowing conversations, we were corralled into three separate pullout sessions on new strategies introduced in credential courses.  One was on how to differentiate instruction, one on how to incorporate UDL, and another on MTSS.

What, you don’t know what UDL and MTSS stand for?  Neither did I until that evening.   The initialisms stand for Universal Design for Learning and Multi-Tiered System of Supports.  Has quite a ring to them, as in “my head is ringing with more education gobbledygook.”  Now I know what my teaching has lacked over the past 28 years.

Instead of recruiting vibrant people to the profession, allowing them to flourish with their natural ability, credential programs often tamper that energy with endless training on the latest learning strategy du jour.

They keep demanding things of teachers that sucks away the joy of working with young people.

More of “be sure you to do this, this, and this” instead of exploring the wonder of working with kids.

They keep laying on more work for the student teacher to do, as if it isn’t stressful enough to require student teachers to work for nothing for a whole year while taking several courses in the evening.

When I asked what requirements were removed to make room for the new ones, the facilitator looked stumped.

The demands of the profession rise as positions in math, science and special education remain vacant.

Much of this nonsense is coming from the state.  In fact, there is a new mandate from the Commission that all cooperating teachers have 10 hours of training to ensure they are qualified to work with student teachers.

So, for those of us who have been doing it for years, none of that experience evidently counts.

Funny how that was never a requirement before.  In fact, usually the way a credential program finds cooperating teachers at school sites is by contacting the districts who then email the administrators who then email teachers with an “anybody want to do this” query.  Experience and quality not necessary.

Here is where the state should step in and expect that the cooperating teacher has a certain amount of ability working with or training other teachers.   But to come up with a random 10 hours of training along the lines of UDL and MTSS is BS.   Even the credential folks are at a loss on how to pay people for the required amount of training.

Frankly, I can’t see how a young person full of beans survives intact after going through the shredder of a teacher training program without losing heart.

A teacher who sparks learning in young people does so not because of MTSS but because that individual connects in a human way that can’t translate into a topic on a college syllabus.

I asked my current student teacher if she is getting any sense of enjoyment from any of her classes.  She said only one professor inspires her.   That’s not enough, and not the way to attract people to teaching.

On a side note, the cooperating teachers were paid $50 for the three-hour workshop and travel time to and from CSUN.   That breaks down to $16.66 an hour.   Just another reason to earn a teaching credential.

 

Every so often, like the re-emergence of El Niño, the topic of a teaching shortage reappears on op-ed pages and talk radio.

California needed more than 21,000 teachers to fill positions this school year because the number of teacher candidates has declined by more than 55 percent, from 45,000 in 2008 to 20,000 in 2013, as reported by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

With fewer people going into the teaching field, shouldn’t the powers that be examine how to increase interest in it?

Working conditions and salary clearly are not selling points.

Much of the negative aspects of teaching stem from the lack of control teachers have over their own profession.

Schools are still structured top-down as they have been for a century, with teachers viewed more as factory workers, not master-degreed professionals who can problem- solve without the intervention of those outside the classroom.

Teachers know how to improve their profession but do not have a voice in the matter, impotent in their subservient roles. How many college students would gravitate toward such a future career?

It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of site-based management was seriously championed as a way to involve teachers in the decision-making process at a school. But that grand idea vanished.

So, education bureaucrats continue to mandate so-called reforms such as Common Core standards and standardized testing that teachers are expected to deliver with little input.

Meanwhile, everyone goes about business as normal, not questioning why people don’t want to become teachers or why so many who do end up leaving within the first few years.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between those who work in the classroom and those who do not. Overlooked is the daily energy drain on interacting with upwards of 200 kids.   Taken for granted is the amount of secretarial tasks performed by teachers: taking attendance, uploading homework, inputting grades, getting supplies, making photocopies.

And then there’s money. Teacher salaries do not reflect the education and training required nor the level of responsibility an effective instructor shoulders.

In fact, beginning teachers in Glendale can’t afford to live in the city.

Consider that the median price of a house in Glendale today is nearly $700,000, according to Zillow. After a 20% down payment, the $560,000 loan would result in a $2,500 monthly mortgage payment.   The starting salary for a teacher in Glendale is $43,000, meaning the monthly take home pay is around $2,800. Add in property taxes and the teacher ends up in the red.

Harjot Kaur, my student teacher from Cal State University, Northridge, teaches three classes, then takes three classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, plus an online course—all unpaid.

So why does she make the financial sacrifice to train as a teacher considering she would not be able to live in the community in which she teaches?

“The low pay is devastating, but this is my passion so I push the reality aside and go on,” Kaur said.

Let’s face it. We all hope that selfless people join the military to protect our country. We all hope that decent people become firefighters and police officers to protect our society. And we all hope that quality people join the teaching ranks to mold our future commodity—children.

But hoping will only get so far.   An overhaul of the teaching profession is long overdue.   And it will take teachers themselves to blast the clarion call since those in the upper echelon of education show no interest in changing the status quo.

Is there any chance of that happening in our lifetime?

One can only hope.