Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Education Major for Anyone?

John N. Gardner
President

Today I was visiting a campus and got engaged in a conversation with a school of education dean. We were commiserating about a matter that has been on my mind since earlier this year when Republican legislators in multiple state legislators went on an unprecedented attack on public employees, especially public school teachers with publicly funded pensions, as being one of the root causes of our national financial malaise. Suddenly teachers were being vilified as overpaid and underworked public servants who were principally responsible for their state’s dire financial circumstances. This was a remarkable piece of historical revisionism indeed. Talk about deflecting blame! Instead of focusing on politicians who led us on a binge of deregulation in Republican and Democratically dominated governments, and instead of looking at the roles of the credit rating agencies, mortgage banking houses, major investment houses, the creators of mortgage securitizing and credit default swaps, now we had truly found the villains: public school teachers.

As this extraordinary public relations sham was unfolding, I found myself asking: why would entering students this fall even remotely consider becoming public school teachers? Their pay is frozen. Their benefits are being cut. Their future profession is being vilified in the media by unscrupulous politicians. They can no longer assume a guaranteed public pension with health benefits.

And that’s where I found myself today in this conversation. Why would students want to borrow money to earn a bachelors degree for this low paying and now lower status profession than ever?

Now this does relate to us higher educators.

These future teachers would have been teaching our future students. So just who is going to do that?

And we higher educators think we have problems. Most of us cannot imagine the working conditions of public school teachers: the amount of administrative work they have to do, record keeping; lack of autonomy; teaching to the tests with all the related stifling of creativity that that may imply; using personal funds to buy classroom supplies; having to deal with unappreciative parents and in some cases having to visit the appalling circumstances in their children's home lives; working 8-9 hours straight with no break(s) and then having to go home, tend to their personal responsibilities, and then prepare for the next day’s classes; having to work weekend and summer part-time jobs as servers in restaurants. Seriously, when is the last time you were waited on in a restaurant by a public school teacher? In my case I know—just five days ago. And I encounter this all too often. When was the last time I was waited on by a currently employed college professor: I can never recall such an occurrence.

My readers are not deans of colleges of education. But we need to help college educators to somehow sell this profession which is now in free fall in significance in our culture.