Like most people, I like a sale, but there are some things that don’t pan out at bargain prices, like America’s public school teachers.
Most teachers are paid by a career ladder. This means they receive a salary step increase with every year of experience. Some don’t like this protocol, but it is simple and direct. Teachers don’t have to compete for bonuses. But it leaves veteran teachers vulnerable.
For years, corporate reformers and policymakers have tried to cheapen and destroy the teaching profession. They don’t want to pay teachers what they’re worth. It seems vindictive since most teachers don’t make huge salaries compared to some professions with equal education.
These same reformers have attempted to replace teachers with cheaper alternatives at discount prices, relying on individual and corporate funding through donations, or they’ve used tax dollars to fund alternative teaching programs.
Many believe the goal is to replace teachers with online instruction. This is easy to believe. We see little effort to save the teaching profession.
Here’s how we’ve become a nation of discount teachers.
Diminished License Requirements
Since 1989, corporate reformers have invested in Teach for America, where college graduates are permitted to enter the classroom as real teachers with only five weeks of training.
This defies logic. Any teacher that enters a classroom should be able to prove they are well-prepared to teach. They should have both an education degree in the area they will teach and experience working with students. New teachers should have been through student teaching under the supervision of a real teacher.
TFA corps members mostly wind up in charter schools where the focus is strict student discipline. They stay one to three years. When they leave, a revolving door of more corps members replace them. There’s a never-ending surplus of cheap teachers.
Not only is TFA promoted, other fast track alternative groups are part of teacher hiring. The New Teachers Project fellows, residency programs, and the Relay Graduate School of Education promote career changers to enter the classroom as teachers.
I have friends who changed their careers to be teachers. They worked hard to learn about children and were committed to their new career. But these teachers fulfilled a need. They weren’t about remaking teaching.
For $1900, anyone can apply to be a teacher through the online government program American Board of Certification For Teacher Excellence. There are complaints about this program online.
In some states charter schools are permitted to train their own teachers. Like other programs, it’s unclear what the instruction involves.
Some states are recruiting teachers from other countries. These individuals are happy to receive low salaries ($36,000 is the average), because it is more than what they make at home.
Veteran teachers are often pushed out of the classroom, but recruiting older individuals to become teachers is now a program. They will start at the lower rung of the career ladder. So apparently you can be an elderly teacher if you don’t have years of experience working with children.
Some states have reduced requirements to be a teacher. All it takes is a bachelor’s degree. They will be paid at the low rung of the ladder too.
Devaluing Higher Education
In order to devalue teachers, corporate reformers have been critical of teacher education schools, claiming universities fail to prepare teachers. Undermining such programs lends itself to promoting cheaper alternative teacher programs where there’s little preparation.
It wasn’t a coincidence when Bill Gates proclaimed in 2011 that teachers don’t need to further their education by obtaining additional degrees to become better teachers. Gates knows that teachers with master’s degrees and PhDs get salary increases. These slight salary adjustments are added to their career step and it makes them more professional, not less.
But Gates also defies logic by criticizing seniority (experience teaching) and the salary increases for teachers who earn additional degrees.
It makes no sense to say that teaching experience and learning more about how to help students learn doesn’t make better teachers.
Everything having to do with today’s corporate school reform places blame on teachers.
Here’s how teachers have been de-professionalized.
- High-stakes testing.
- Repealing or attempting to repeal teacher tenure (due process).
- Merit pay plans have been used to try to destroy the career ladder pay plan.
- Failing to negotiate a timely contract with teachers.
- Denying teachers salary increases for additional degrees.
- Large class sizes.
- Placing ELL students in a large class with no support.
- Placing students with disabilities in a large class with no support.
- Failing to supply resources and materials.
- Eliminating support staff.
- Closing school libraries.
- Eliminating art classes and art teachers.
- Denying schools counselors and nurses?
- Having lots of money for technology but not teachers.
All these tactics diminish creating a true teaching profession. Instead, qualified teachers are being driven out of their schools and the country relies more on discount teachers with less preparation to teach. This has not turned out well, and it will be a lot to expect students to be equipped with what they need to know to solve the problems facing us today and in the future.