Friday, June 29, 2007

Let's Innovate

Here's an article suggesting that the United States is facing a national teacher shortage. It's odd that so many people seem to think the answer is longer school days and years, but that's what they're saying. And the move to worsen working conditions seems to have legs. Will it help?

I don't think so. I live in Nassau, and not in one of the "best" towns by far. Yet my daughter has had consistently excellent teachers, and has never had a classroom with fewer than two computers. On the other hand, I've never taught in one with more than zero (unless you count the time I taught word processing in a room with 15 non-functional antique computers). Her school buildings, though often old, are always clean. Yet reformers say we need to get rid of tenure, we need to introduce more work for less pay, and that will make teachers better.

A study co-written by Murnane and published this year reports that minorities and poor children are most likely to be taught by teachers with weak academic backgrounds or little preparation. Overall, the proportion of women who pursue teaching after college, as well as the caliber of recruits, has declined significantly since the 1960s.

The number of college-educated women in the United States tripled from 1964 to 2000, according to a 2004 study by University of Maryland economists, but the share of those graduates who became teachers dropped from 50 percent to 15 percent in the same time. And although in 1964 1 in 5 young female teachers graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class, the ratio was closer to 1 in 10 by 2000.

The study neglects to mention that poorer districts also have the lowest salaries and the worst working conditions. NYC has the highest class sizes in the state, and rather than address that, the mayor wants to dangle cash prizes and make kids (and parents) jump like trained seals.

It's great that women have more options, but very sad for our children that teaching has become so less desirable as a career. The likelihood that ten-hour days, six day weeks, less job security, and continued low pay will be a draw is small indeed. Will teachers stay on?

In the first months, she would work until late at night, then lie awake "thinking, thinking, thinking" about school, she said. For most of the year, she woke up at 5 a.m. to plan lessons and prepare handouts and then stayed at school until at least 5 p.m., grading papers or helping the pep rally dance team or the ESL homework club.

In such a demanding job, the turnover rate is high.

That's the life of a beginning teacher. Time makes things easier, of course, but by that time a good number of these teachers are already gone. The McTeacher movement actually encourages that trend. I don't think it's helpful either to teachers or students. I want my kid to have a calm, thoughtful teacher, not an overworked wage-slave who'd bound to burn out before learning the ropes.

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