Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Why I Won't Teach

I think public education is really, really important. According to the government about 90% of American children attend public schools. Educating our future and all that.


If I wanted to become a teacher in, say, VA, I would need a master's, obtainable for 18 semester hours of courses. The local community college, being the lowest bidder, would charge about $1500. Or I could do a 'Career Switchers' program, with five years work experience, at the CC for the sum of $3400. (Why is this a good deal?) Possibly I could qualify for state's 'alternative endorsement' route, but that also requires five years of 'work experience.' Raise your hand if you think the State of VA will accept six years of lab-every-day grad school as work. No? No-one? Didn't think so.

If I merely wanted to teach, some states have rapid-cert programs, or there is Teach For America*, but this assumes one is willing to move to another state solely to become a teacher.

To sweeten the pot, the average beginning salary is somewhere around $29,000 to $33,000. (This is for BAs; I couldn't find data for PhD starting salaries. I understand it doesn't go up much except for seniority, generally.) Given that I could earn at least that much sitting in the school's front office answering the phone, and get the same benefits, why bother? To say nothing of what I could earn elsewhere with a PhD. So, to recap: work really hard with often-bratty kids, earning peanuts. This would rather select for self-sacrifice.

But the money isn't the real reason I would never teach. Neither are deeply annoying courses on 'classroom management' and 'how to teach science to Little Janie's musical intelligence.' It's because the courses and money are an insult. They say that all my experience and training, my actual knowledge of science and research, my TEACHING, count for nothing. I am unqualified to teach in a public school, though a private school would hire me (for twice the salary) in 30 seconds. What does that say about our educational system? Oh, right. That money will buy you a better education.

Teaching pay is not competitive for college graduates because they can earn nearly as much a) without the college degree and b) by sitting at a desk all day. Teacher training is not competitive because it discounts other forms of experience and knowledge in favor of a uniformly applied and inflexible standard.** For example: I could not become certified merely by passing the required tests. I understand the motivation for an 'objective' certification process, but thinking of my teachers, I think we can safely conclude that certification offers no assurance of good teaching.

Compounding the problem is the way schools are funded: frequently, by local property taxes. Urban schools, which can least afford it, can't pay for good teachers, who are courted by richer districts. And schools burn out even the altruistic: half of all new teachers quit within five years. Teachers often cite large classes, unsupportive administrations, uninvolved parents, and a teach-to-test mentality. Also the pay: 'For this nonsense I earn bupkis? Pah.'

Teachers are underpaid. Our lightly-federalized education system ensures that the country is a patchwork of thousands of independent school districts, and that it is unlikely to change soon. The latest attempt to ask the question 'is our children learning' has resulted in a system with good schools failing their assessments for ridiculous reasons, a lot of teaching to the test, and a lot of angry teachers. Decent idea. Terrible execution.

Sound familiar?

Addendum: Hey, look at that.

* But. I know many people who've done it. Their experiences were varied along a scale of 'not great', frankly.
** My MIL (teacher for 30 years) despises 'teacher training'. 'Experience is good for a lot more,' she says. 'No class will prepare you for handling 30 rowdy teenagers. Except the one you're teaching.'