Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Clarification on Respecting Teachers

Last week, I wrote about the dismissive attitude toward teaching Kindergarten on How I Met Your Mother, and I wanted to offer one short clarification based on a personal conversation I had.

In that piece I wrote two things that were meant to make the same argument but may sound like different arguments.

First, I wrote that "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."

I then concluded by arguing that we couldn't possibly get the school system we want "if quitting is the only way for teachers to reach their potential".

Upon reading the piece, a friend contacted me to point out that he didn't think bad teachers deserved respect, which led to a discussion differentiating respecting teachers from respecting teaching.

The former would mean that people who are currently teaching aren't receiving enough respect from society. While I think this is true in many cases (there are obviously some who don't do much to earn our respect -- though they should still be respected as human beings), it was not the intent of my last piece to argue that being nicer to current teachers would solve our problems (though it wouldn't hurt).

Rather, my intent was to focus on the latter construct -- respect for the act of teaching itself.  The largest policy problem I saw evidenced in the dialogue of the show was that multiple people were dismissing the job of kindergarten teacher as beneath that of any elite person.  Lily leaves her job to work in the art world; Marshall is a lawyer; Ted is an architect/professor; Barney does something vague in finance; and Robin is a newscaster.  And the job of kindergarten teacher simply isn't worthy of any of them.

In the long-run, we flat-out will not be able to recruit or retain the best and the brightest if the status of teaching remains so low.  The billions of dollars, oodles of effort, and reams of policy papers we've recently expended on improving teacher quality will all be for naught if teaching is beneath the elite.

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.