Something became clear last week. Teachers’ and those who claim to advocate for teachers have become their own worst enemy – and this is being said by a former educator.
It became clear the efforts of so many talented, committed, and fearless teachers, were being undermined, not by those labeled as reformers or privatizers, not by politicians, or by local school districts – but by teachers themselves – How is this so?
In an address held a little over a week ago, to the National Assessment Governing Board Education Summit for Parent Leaders, United States Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, held nothing back. In a well delivered statement, Duncan highlighted the challenges our American students face today in a global market place that continues to become more competitive. While these challenges have been the topic of many conversations, Duncan pushed further, articulating how if we as a nation truly want to level the playing field, and want to ensure our students are career and college ready, then parents must demand more – specifically from their child’s teacher(s).
Duncan goes further to offer a troubling detail that “In the United States a significant proportion of new teachers come from the bottom third of their college class, and most new teachers say their training did not prepare them for the realities of the classroom.” As a former educator, this fact does not surprise me. What did surprise me was the back lash that took effect as a result of this statement, led by teachers.
Ironically, for making such a statement, educators took to social media in order to take their shots at the Secretary. Amongst other “unkind epithets’” Duncan was called “elitist,” “out of touch,” and “racist.” One tweet went as far as demanding that Duncan produce his high school and college transcripts (Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard). Mind you again, these responses are coming from teachers – (and former teachers – and then subsequently followed by the inevitable rallying cries of union leaders) individuals charged with the task of setting high academic expectations for our children … right?
It is certainly a sad day when teachers feel the need to insult an individual as a result of the quality of their education. Duncan’s “bottom third” teacher statistic, sheds light on a rather poignant detail that at the very least should encourage intellectual discussion amongst teachers, not public out lash. Duncan is not saying that all teachers must be from the top of their class, or even that simply being at the top of your class translates into effective teaching (it doesn’t). All occupations should aspire to continuously work towards raising the standards required to enter their respective field(s), as well as ensuring that those already in the field are provided with the ongoing professional development necessary to remain effective.
In Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World, she describes the rigorous process a teacher in Finland must go through in order to become a teacher. In Finland, only 20 percent of all applicants are selected to attend their teacher specific training universities – and being selected is as prestigious as getting into Medical school here in the United States. Entrance into the profession is much less selective in the United States, as only 1 out of 20 education schools are located at a highly selective institution in the US. Ripley makes the case much more “matter of fact” stating “in other words, to educate our children, we invite anyone – no matter how poorly educated they were – to give it a try … a bit like recruiting flight instructors who had never successfully landed a plane, then wondering why so many planes were crashing.”
Let me be clear in that my intention is not to place all teachers into a category that fails to recognize the importance and the need to raise the level of intellectual aptitude amongst those seeking to enter education. The goal rather, remains to make the educators who are in fact talented, committed, innovative, fearless, and have a desire to continue to be challenged professionally, aware of the damage that their very “own” are bringing upon the profession. Educators are under microscopic pressure as it is from every which direction, brought forth by every possible stakeholder – teachers’ undermining the profession themselves through ignorant comments, are certainly not useful in elevating the way in which the profession is viewed.
Our profession needs teacher leaders to take a stand. Teachers need to take a stand not against reformers, privatizers, or politicians, but against those that refuse to embark on the challenge of moving our education system forward, settling for the stagnant state evident for the most part for nearly 50 years.
In his message, Secretary Duncan challenged parents to demand more of teachers and he is right in this assessment. However, we must take this a step further and call upon teachers to demand more of teachers.
When it comes to educating our students, they without a doubt deserve the best and the brightest. The same standard should be in place for teachers – they deserve the best and the brightest, as colleagues, collaborators, and coaches – and they should not settle for anything less.