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.

 

My son, the high school graduate

The end of high school for seniors is often bittersweet for their teachers who may have known the students for up to four years.

The end of high school for a parent of a senior, however, resonates deeper for it marks a significant rite of passage.

One senior graduating this year in particular means a great deal to me.  He is my son.

People who know Ben frequently comment that “he’s a good kid.”  Any parent would be proud of a child who generates that reaction from others.

Goodness is in short supply in today’s world.  It does not show up on a standardized test.

Ben is very polite, always responding to a meal at home with a “thank you for the tacos” without any prodding; it comes naturally to him.

I overhear him talk to grown-ups on the phone asking “How are you?” interested in having an adult-like conversation.

He makes his own breakfast of eggs and oatmeal each morning, and often assists me with dinner.

He engages in adult-like perceptions on politics and the world.  Our family TV time is watching Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN and “60 Minutes” on Sundays.

He knows cultural history, recognizing an Ella Fitzgerald vocal or an Alfred Hitchcock film.

He has a taste for long-established restaurants such as the Smoke House.

He doesn’t mind getting dressed up to go out for dinner, or picking up after the dog in the backyard.

He rarely wants anything.  His iPhone is not new, his car as old as he is.

He still sleeps in the same bed that he got back in elementary school, though lies diagonally accommodating his nearly six-foot frame.

His only luxury is a flat screen TV that his uses primarily for playing videogames on his PS4.

Something else Ben does:  when he is out, he always calls us (not texts) when he is coming home.   This is not something that we have demanded; it comes from Ben’s own sense of responsibility.

What is the recipe for a good kid?  Along with love and support from family and friends, Ben’s teachers deserve recognition: kindergarten teacher Ms. Solyom, third grade teacher Ms. Rostomyan, fifth grade teacher Ms. Essex, sixth grade social science teacher Ms. Lamb, sixth grade P.E. teacher Ms. Asmussen, seventh grade English teacher Mr. Martin, eighth grade English teacher Mr. Rothacher, biology teacher Mr. Margve, astronomy teacher Mr. Movsessian, AP Psych teacher Mr. Collazos, AP English Lit teacher Mr. McNiff, and AP U.S. History teacher Mr. Thomson.

My wife and I were amazed as his maturity blossomed earlier this year.  Within a matter of weeks, he made the decision to attend CSUN and got his first job.

It was a surreal feeling to have my photo taken with my son in front of CSUN”s Oviatt Library where I graduated 35 years ago.

Back then, the idea that one day I would have a son who would attend the same college as I did was not even a flicker of a thought in my mind.

When we moved into our house 18 years ago, Ben was three months old.  Today, in that same bedroom lives an 18-year-old.   Oh, the baby still lives in the man.  You can it in his eyes, his smile, and the way he speaks.  And you can see his younger brother looking up at him from an early age, absorbing Ben’s life as a textbook on how to grow up.

Ben, you have had a good life so far.  I hope you continue being good and doing good in the years to come.

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.