Jan 16 2014

Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Teachers

A rising superstar in education is Rutgers student Stephanie Rivera, who I first wrote about last year.  Stephanie just published a very compelling blog post called To All The Teachers Telling Us To Not Go Into Teaching, Stop.  In response to the recent flood of videos and blog posts by frustrated teachers, Stephanie suggests that these warnings may not be serving a good purpose.  Stephanie concludes:

This fight against harmful, corporate education reforms will not be won with more teachers quitting. This fight will not be won by telling future teachers–who are going into the profession with  the right intentions, with the proper more-than-5-weeks training–not to enter the field. We will win by working towards educating more future educators of what is happening. Rather than telling them to not go into the field, and instead discussing ideas on how a powerful resistance can be built together. Imagine young future educators coming across articles titled: “Why I Revolted, “Why I Resisted,” or “Why I Was Fired for Not Teaching to Test,” rather than the ever so common,”Why I Quit.”

I know that many of the current teachers encourage us not to enter the field because they want to protect us. Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t need your protection, we need you to stay strong and stand up for what you know is right. We don’t need your protection, we need you to stand up for the future of your students, the future of our profession–and thank you to all of the current educators out there who have been doing this tirelessly. We need to know when we enter the classroom, you will stand fearlessly beside us.

We don’t need your protection, we need your solidarity.

I am a big fan of Rivera, but I have a different view on this issue and will likely continue advising people against becoming teachers right now, but for a reason that she doesn’t address.

For years I have been hearing about how the baby boomers were going to retire from teaching and there would be massive teacher shortages looming.  As time passed, that big teacher shortage never seemed to come and I got the feeling that this was unnecessary worrying.

But with the current wave of education ‘reform’ that teachers and students are enduring, I do believe that the predictions about mass retirings with not enough new teachers to replace them is the natural consequence of all the tampering in education by people who don’t understand the landscape of schools and education.  In California, already, they have seen a 40% drop in the number of teacher candidates between 2003 and 2009.  The U.S. Department of Education, together with Microsoft and TFA, three organizations, ironically, that have helped cause the potential teacher shortage, have launched a campaign, recently, to help recruit more people to be teachers.

Assuming that the ‘reform’ movement continues to gain momentum (and lately it has been losing momentum, thankfully) veterans will retire while the new teachers would likely fall into two categories:  1)  Smart, brave people like Stephanie Rivera who, knowing full well, what a dangerous task it is to enter this profession under these conditions, and 2)  Oblivious people who don’t even realize what sorts of things are going on right now with ‘reform.’  Anyone in the middle, like smart people who maybe aren’t willing to risk their sanity on this ’cause,’ but who would have made very good teachers, will simply choose another profession.

I don’t think that these two groups of people will be enough to replace all the frustrated teachers who retire, and if this happens I’ll have mixed feelings.

Of course I’ll feel bad for all the students who have to suffer with unqualified teachers from all the make-shift alternative placement programs that are sure to spring up to fill the void.  But if this were to happen and the education system in this country started to actually fall apart for lack of teachers as a direct result of overzealous, but misinformed, education ‘reformers,’ everyone would start asking “What caused this mess?” and the answer would be obvious that we allowed the wrong people to have too much power to experiment with our education system.  And then, if there would be a silver lining in all this, the corporate reformers would finally be banished from influencing education policy — once and for all.

I know that partially ‘rooting’ for a crisis doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do.  But it is similar to when, if you have a loved one who is acting self-destructively, like abusing drugs.  You think:  “If he would just get a DUI and have to spend a few nights in jail, then maybe he’d hit ‘rock bottom’ and use that as a wake-up call to get his life back in order.”  Maybe, under the influence of the corporate reform types, education needs to hit rock bottom.

There is a better alternative, and this is where I am in agreement with Rivera.  If we can keep the momentum going, maybe we can defeat the rich and powerful special interests that are threatening education.  Having young teachers help with the fight can definitely help with that.

Still, it takes quite a gallant person to enter the teaching profession under these conditions.  I don’t think most people can endure it, but I am grateful that there will be some like Stephanie Rivera willing to charge head-first into the belly of the beast, fully aware of the dangers.  Perhaps she will help prevent a corporate reform induced teacher shortage.

9 Responses

  1. Michael Fiorillo

    For so-called reformers, every crisis – including the one’s they cause – is an opportunity to further cannibalize the public schools. Why do you think they’d respond to this prospective one any differently?

  2. Steve M

    There are so many reasons not to go into teaching that I cannot help but discourage my students from considering it (at least at the secondary level):

    -Kids are much more interested in being instantly gratified by social media than toiling through something difficult. Such distractions have always been problematic, but students now have the ability to instantly tune out.
    -Cheating and plagiarizing are becoming exponentially more difficult to combat and work around. Exams that a teacher spends two hours writing can be surreptitiously photographed and disseminated within seconds. Should teachers start suing students’ parents to stop this?
    -We see little-to-no improvement in society’s (and schools’) worst social ills: poverty, illiteracy, apathy, thuggery, crime. It gets extremely depressing to never see improvement in one’s school environment.
    -Students seem to have fewer expectations…they seem to be giving up more quickly [tied to job outlook?].
    -Teachers’ wages have stagnated; many have fallen.
    -As the last bastion of organized liberal progressivism, teachers have been scapegoated and demonized by an increasingly conservative media complex.
    -Pensions are becoming less secure as municipalities go bankrupt (true for all public employees).
    -There is less job security.
    -Teachers are being pitted against each other, and schools against other schools. Charter schools are systematically screwing over their traditional counterparts…the effect of which will only become evident in another five to ten years.
    -Teachers’ work loads/responsibilities have increased.
    -Many schools have become filthy/broken down as funding was cut and never restored.

    …need we go on?

  3. gkm001

    I’m a teacher candidate in an MA program in Chicago, and I agree with Ms. Rivera. I think it’s wrong to hope for school reform to “win” so that we can all see its massive failures… what about the waste of human potential? What if it were your own children going to resource-starved schools with inexperienced teachers and invalid assessments and a hollowed-out curriculum? You would want organized resistance and activism — you would want teachers and fellow parents to put up a fight. You wouldn’t want everyone to just wait and watch your child’s education go down in flames.

    • BeeB

      As one of those children who graduated from a “resource-starved school with inexpereinced teachers and invalid assessments and a hollowed out curriculum” I can tell you that any change that sparks a discussion is better than the apathy or defeatism that the vast majority of our parents show.

  4. Jack Covey

    Sweet Jesus, Gary!

    Could you—and others—please respond to this latest HuffPost article from TFA:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elisa-villanueva-beard/innovating-for-equity_b_4603106.html

    • NewarkTFA

      I clicked through on link provided above and recommend that others do the same. Here’s my response to that article:

      I find it hilarious that E4E is characterized as elevating “the voices and ideas of teachers.” Orwellian, much?

      I find the bizarre fetish for the concept of entrepreneur deeply disturbing as well. Apparently, the concept, of . . . you know . . . being an actual teacher has been so deeply discredited by TFA and its ilk that the only way to praise teachers now is to imply that they’re really . . . you know . . . more like businessmen out to make a buck!

      This nonsense sure doesn’t sound like anything I wanted to lend my good name to when I joined in 2006. Of course, I’m just a teacher (not someone who really contributes to society like an entrepreneur), so why should anyone care about my “voice” or “ideas” anyway?

  5. Reteach 4 America

    Gotta love that Stephanie. Bless her heart.

    Gary, You might want to take a look at this magic. TFAer Baye Cobb, from John McDonogh charter in NOLA of Oprah’s Blackboard Wars fame (you wrote about the show before), is claiming on LinkedIn: “In my first year, there was an 800% improvement in the percentage of students who achieved at a proficient* level on the End of Course test in Geometry. There was a 210% increase in the overall percentage of students who passed their Geometry End of Course tests.” Take a look at the excel files with scores that she’s referring to here: http://www.louisianabelieves.com/docs/test-results/geometry-annual-report-december-2012-may-2013.xlsx?sfvrsn=4 and here: http://www.louisianaschools.net/lde/uploads/20003.xlsx Please keep in mind that she had 5 Geometry classes and I counted the kids everytime I saw her in class and I never saw more than 10 or 11 students in her class, but 100 kids were tested, so there must have been a second Geometry teacher. Also, the previous year, it had been a traditional school, not a charter. BTW, the charter is being shut down at the end of this year due to low scores. Do you see magic?

  6. laMissy

    I am a teacher, retired, after 36 years, in an urban school system. My husband, also retired, 32 years, same system. All three of our kids have been quite interested (having graduated from the same schools as we taught in) in careers in public education. I have told them all that now is not the time. Firstly, as kids of teachers, they have significant college loans because we didn’t have $$ in large amounts to pay up front. They cannot risk taking low-paying jobs from which they can be dismissed because of flavor of the week testing resulting in bad VAM’s. Each has begun to find alternative ways of being teachers outside of classroom settings. It makes me sad because they do get how important a lever education is, and they have the skill sets that would make them successful teachers. Their potential, hypothetical, students will miss them, but right now it’s not a viable career choice, says their Momma.

  7. laMissy

    I am a teacher, retired, after 36 years, in an urban school system. My husband, also retired, 32 years, same system. All three of our kids have been quite interested (having graduated from the same schools as we taught in) in careers in public education, no doubt because they imbibed the joys and tribulations of this work every night with supper. I have told them all that now is not the time. Firstly, as kids of teachers, they have significant college loans because we didn’t have $$ in large amounts to pay up front. They cannot risk taking low-paying jobs from which they can be dismissed because of flavor of the week testing resulting in bad VAM’s. Each has begun to find alternative ways of being teachers outside of classroom settings. It makes me sad because they do get how important a lever education is, and they have the skill sets that would make them successful teachers. Their potential, hypothetical, students will miss them, but right now it’s not a viable career choice, says their Momma.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
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Subject
Math

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