A friend of mine recently posted a Freakonomics Radio podcast entitled Is America’s Education Problem Really a Teacher Problem? and asked his teacher friends to comment.
Here’s my response…
I think many valid points are raised here. One that I would add based on my own (admittedly limited, and also Canadian) perspective, is that in addition to the brain-drain in the teaching profession, I think the working conditions that most teachers face actually cultivate mediocrity rather than excellence. It is really hard to maintain the passion, emotional energy and creativity that it takes to teach well when resources are dwindling, class sizes are increasing and the job-description keeps expanding. When you add an accountability structure that is based on (often imprecise) standardized tests, the environment can be toxic.
One point from the podcast that I would challenge is the benefit of choice, not because choice is inherently bad, but because I think it’s worth examining who we understand to be the customer/client. With rare exceptions, parents know their kids better than anyone else does; however, they don’t necessarily know the education system that well. The idea of choice as a solution is predicated on the assumption that parents are equipped to make the best possible choice for their child. I think that places an unfair burden on parents, especially in an era when there is so much pressure to get kids into the “right” schools, programs, teams, camps etc. However, if we think of having an educated population as a benefit to society as a whole, then the customer/client is no longer individual students or families but whole communities. Consequently, the task of placing students in the best environment in which to learn is a communal responsibility.
As a teacher, my wish for the profession is for us to be seen, treated and valued as creative, passionate and dedicated professionals, and to work in environments that inspire and support us to live up to that reputation. There are places where that happens (I think that in most respects my school is one of them), but I don’t think it’s the status quo. Yet.