Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The American Teachers Association

I want to first make it clear that I don't think the 3.1 million men and women who wake up early and state late to make sure our kids get educated enough to participate in our democracy are committing any sort of act of treason. I question the narrative that our schools are failing or are even doing worse than they've done in the past (and please read Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error for some in-depth unpacking of how we've cut the race-based achievement gap in reading nearly in half since 1978, or enjoy these charts).

But as an overworked and underpaid teacher, I recognize that some things in my profession need to change. We need to attract and retain talented young people to the classroom -- not just for two or three years but for long enough to hone their craft and pass on lessons to the next crop of novice teachers. Students most at-risk of dropping out often have the most chaotic home lives and would benefit the most from stable school communities we could create if teaching were something a person did for many years in the same place. Instead, we have a profession where the annual turnover rate is 4 percent higher than it is in most other professions.

There's a lot local school boards and state superintendents could do to change this situation, but it seems like perhaps teachers need to take matters into our own hands. Last year, ATF President Randi
Weingarten (you may remember her as the villain from Waiting for Superman) backed a proposal to create a national certification exam for teachers. She joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan among others in this idea that just didn't seem to catch on. I think we need to go one further: teachers' associations should be in charge of licensing teachers.

One often hears a desire to elevate the teaching profession to one on par with doctoring and lawyering -- a job that kids from upper-middle class families seek out in order to remain firmly in the upper-middle class while making some sort of meaningful contribution to the world around them. Both doctors and lawyers design, administer, and certify the tests that result in the licenses of their practitioners. These professions also take away the licenses when their practitioners have been found delinquent in meeting their professional duties. Why shouldn't teachers, instead of the people who bring you the poor predictor of college success, the SAT, have that same sort of professional autonomy? 

I'm not sure that this sort of autonomy would attract and retain talented teachers, but what do I know? I'm just someone who gets to stand in front of a classroom five days a week because I took the courses set out by my state legislature and passed a standardized test.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

When I took the Praxis tests last weekend, it struck me as funny that I was paying a lot of money (almost $300) for a random third party organization to decide if my multiple choice answers made me good enough to be a teacher.