“Make More. Teach” is one of the catchiest slogans of the Teach campaign. But the “more” doesn’t refer to money. Instead, in a series of advertisements, a voiceover explains: “I make learning a privilege, not a chore, and frustration a tool, not an obstacle. I make working hard seem easy and giving up impossible.”
Clever, but if we really want to draw the top talent to teaching, we have to offer them something more than this warm, fuzzy Obama-style idealism.
Improving the ranks of teachers for tomorrow requires facing head-on the attitude that education is mostly a benevolent calling, best left to those who simply “love children.” The platitude is an embarrassingly simplistic understanding of the skills it takes to be an effective teacher.
Moreover, we need to recognize that school is a place where the social problems of our nation get played out daily. Income and wealth maldistribution in America is a pathology that is glaringly apparent in our primary and secondary schools. We speak of an education crisis, but there is no crisis in school districts where the wealthy live. The rich and the comfortable middle class will always fund their public schools, and their children will be provided an excellent education.
That’s not the case for most large cities and many poor rural areas. There, teachers will struggle with scant resources, often contributing their own time and money to meet classroom needs, and face dispiriting and, frankly, insuperable problems caused by poverty and family dysfunction.
However spirited and energetic, teachers in these schools will fail. They will fail to solve problems for which “good teachers” are supposed to be some magic silver bullet. And they will be vilified for it.
For whatever reason, public school teachers have become a political punching bag. Perhaps it’s because they are one of the last bulwarks of organized labor. Perhaps it’s because they provide a convenient scapegoat for the social and economic inequality Americans don’t want to address. Maybe it’s envy, because, if they’re lucky and state and local governments hold up their end of the bargain, teachers will retire with something few private sector employees have: a defined-benefit pension.