Changing the way we become teachers

by Mr. Sheehy

Rightfully, Andy Hargreaves’ text and my class on the social and philosophical foundations of education focus attention on how schools are training students for the current knowledge economy. Their main capacity is as training institutions (in answering the question “training for what?” the road diverges, of course), and if we’re examining their place, this is the context through which to view them. In examinations of teaching, the focus is on how to arrange relationships and interactions to foster better learning environments for students. For example, regarding teaching, Hargreaves paraphrases Gary Hoban’s view of how schools need to be:

Schools, like other workplaces, must become sophisticated professional learning systems that are organized and structured to encourage professional learning for teachers, so that it becomes an endemic and spontaneous part of their work.

But as I begin to contemplate my own proposals for education (to meet the following prompt: “Propose a new policy which attempts to resolve a significant social or philosophical issue impacting US education today”), I am instead tempted to look at how education as an industry in the United States is adapting itself to this knowledge society. Rather than look at how it is preparing future workers for other segments of society, I want to examine how it is sustaining itself as an industry. As an industry, it faces needs, like recruiting and maintaining a valuable workforce, and as far as I know, it has not changed it’s strategies in these areas for decades. Provenzo observes that teachers use the methods of the labor industries to advance their cause, and while I do not have any particular issue with unions (and may owe them more than I realize), it seems that the entire mechanisim for how teachers haggle with their employers needs to be reconsidered. Are there better tools than unions, tenure, and gradual step salary scales?

My own objection to the process arises from personal experience, and I am convinced that situations like mine reveal why the established path into teaching is dreadfully inadequate. The basic situation is this: I thought about becoming a teacher, but through the first couple years of college, I hesitated. I wasn’t the camp-counselor kind of guy, buddying up to teenagers with the starry-eyed hope of creating “a better tomorrow.” Later, when professors noted my knack for communicating in teaching situations, I reconsidered, but by that time I was a junior and since I attended a private school, I could not afford adding semesters to my experience. I hoped I could get certified later. Later came, but at a substantial cost. I had to stop working for a year to enroll in school full-time, but instead of being a young-20’s kid living at home during the summer, I was a late-20’s husband and father of a newborn girl. For the year, we lived off a blessing

– a great-uncle’s inheritance, given to us by my mother.

Such providential happenings are wonderful in cases like mine, but if an industry seriously wants to recruit qualified workers, why would it limit its recruitment pool to 19 year olds and adults with amazingly serendipitous situations?

To become a teacher through most undergraduate institutions, a student must declare himself an education major within the first two years. After that, choosing to teach will cost that student a minimum of one extra semester, maybe more. My understanding is that the problem has multiple causes: structured tracks create so many prerequisites that it is difficult to catch-up by overloading on education classes, like one can do with other majors; a heavy load of requirements also makes it difficult to cram the necessary classes into a schedule if they are not begun early in the college career. In an age of rising tuition costs, for an industry facing a potential shortage and one in need of “highly qualified” workers, it is ridiculous to condone such a path. What other industry relies so thoroughly upon our nation’s higher education institutions for qualification? The entire K-12 system is at the mercy of such odd arrangements in post-secondary schools. Imagine that the computer software industry desperately needed workers, would it rely entirely upon higher ed. institutions to recruit and train its workforce while it threw out a few signing bonuses to lure people into particular positions? Of course not.

I will need to work hard to focus my proposal and not extend it too far, since I could easily follow a trail until I’ve restructured the entire industry. I plan to limit myself to considering how the schooling industry can better recruit, compensate, and maintain workers who were not education majors when they attended their undergraduate institution. In other words, how can schools become active beneficiaries of the knowledge society’s workforce economy?

But while keeping small, I will need to examine more than one issue that relates to this area. I’ll obviously consider how a teacher becomes certified and how that certification process could be recast. But in addition to that I think it is necessary to examine the modes of salary structure in public schools, because if education would like to recruit talented workers who are currently in the work force, it should not insult them with pay that is theoretically targeted at fresh college graduates. Surely a 30-year old actress who has finished chasing her theatrical dream in New York City and is now ready to apply her talent as a teacher is worth more to a school district than a 22-year old education major who graduated last May. Why do we insist on paying them the same salary?

That’s where I am headed. While I am not naive enough to think I can solve the world’s problems, I might be just naive enough to think I could come up with an idea to solve a few of education’s problems. At least I hope so, since I have to write this paper and I might as well believe what I’m writing.


Original image: ‘It’s a Lottery‘ by: Mark Menzies

Original image: ‘Bridge Geometry by: Alexander Ljung