Tuesday, February 19, 2013

*Just* A Kindergarten Teacher

Tonight's episode of How I Met Your Mother features an argument between Marshall and Lily about her career that speaks volumes about the current state of America's educational system.  (In case you don't watch the show, Marshall and Lily are college sweethearts who are now married thirty-somethings with a baby -- Marshall is a lawyer and Lily is a kindergarten teacher).

Lily is upset because she's told by an acquaintance that she's "just a kindergarten teacher" and the following exchange ensues (video at the bottom):

Marshall: Oh my God! Lily! What is the big deal?  Ok, so what? So he said you were just a kindergarten teacher.  Why do you let that bother you?
Lily: Because he was right; I am just a kindergarten teacher.  And, yes, I have a degree in art history, and I was meant to do something with it -- but I didn't. Somewhere along the line I forgot to pursue my dream and, and now I'm old, and I'm a Mom, and it's just too late for me.
At this point -- particularly knowing the cutesy relationship they have and how much Marshall adores Lily -- I expected Marshall to respond by saying something like "Lily, that's one of my favorite things about you: few people are more important or incredible than kindergarten teachers"

Marshall instead responds by emphatically saying "No, it's not too late. You're going to quit your job, tomorrow, and you're gonna go back and pick up right where you left off with that art stuff . . ."

Maybe I'm overreacting to a few moments in a sitcom, but this seems indicative of one of the largest problems with our efforts to improve our educational system.  Virtually all the reform efforts of the past few years have focused on teacher quality because everybody agrees it's so important; but nobody's willing to actually treat teachers like they're important.

After all, who's going to want to be just a teacher?  Certainly not the best and the brightest.  And what teacher is going to be empowered or respected enough to change the system if teachers are viewed as second-class citizens?  If we want to recruit, retain, and develop the best teaching corps in the world (like we say we do), we can't keep demeaning and demoralizing them.  If we're going to justify every new pet policy (which always seem to place teachers under even more scrutiny) by talking of teachers' vast importance, we can't then act like they aren't worthy of our attention.

Our teachers deserve better.  Our kids deserve better.  And our country deserves better.  And we won't get it if quitting is the only way for teachers to reach their potential.

Cross-Posted at Blog of the Century

Here's the clip, but the quality is poor -- you'll probably have to turn up your volume to hear anything.

UPDATE: The video has been blocked by FOX, who made a copyright claim. A 36-second clip sure seems like fair use to me, so this distresses me (and I'm not sure why FOX would claim a show that aired on CBS). YouTube says I get a "copyright strike" if I challenge and lose, so I'm going to let this one go unless somebody knows a copyright lawyer who can advise me whether I'm in the right or not.


Unknown said...
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Roger Sweeny said...

One possibility is that Hollywood undervalues teachers. Another possibility is that Hollywood overvalues "art." Would anyone have written that scene with Lily majoring in business? Or communication? Or geology?

Lily says, "I have a degree in art history, and I was meant to do something with it -- but I didn't. Somewhere along the line I forgot to pursue my dream..." There is a lovely myth that many people believe. You go to college to find something you're passionate about, which you then get a degree in. After graduation, you make a career in that field, and are both fulfilled and well-paid. Marshall buys the myth and feels bad that Lily hasn't lived her dream.

Anonymous said...

I love the show How I Met Your Mother. It's a very funny show. But in all fair context, if I was a teacher, I would want to be more than JUST a teacher. I want to be THE teacher who gives a positive light and influence on the future of today's present.

Anonymous said...

It's all about pay. If teachers were paid $140,000 a year like any old finance guy, then immediately people would start giving value to them. That's the America we live in.

Cory Bougher said...

Coincidently I just watched this episode on DVD! Perhaps the issue is that teachers don't have much career advancement...other than advancing right out of the classroom into administrative positions.

And with the trend moving to performance pay, teachers are either effective or not, based mostly on factors beyond their control. Can you see doctors being evaluated that way? A low score of surviving patients when those patients did not follow the doctor's advice?

And in the traditional factory model, students do not get to chose their teachers so the evaluation system can not be compared to the "real world" in which clients get to choose/evaluate their service providers. This ensures that the average rating with always be average!