the teach tour uncovering how & why we've failed to educate children worldwide@theteachtour

shaping lives & saving lives: is each as important as the other?

There currently exists a huge void in respect for a large segment of society in many countries. It’s not simply the “lower” class or the “poor” class which people lack due respect and admiration for, but another sector entirely which has been overlooked and stepped all over for recent decades. This is the teacher class.

The major question that resides in my mind is this: Why do we value doctors above all else in society for saving lives, for curing illnesses, and for generally giving us answers to queries we cannot fathom but somehow assume teaching is the simplest, most commonplace, easy-to-pick-up profession in the book?

For those of you thinking, “Well, I was once taught, so being on the opposite side of the classroom cant be that tough,” I balk at this statement. You were also once given a treatment by a doctor- does that certify you to treat others’ illnesses? I hope not. Please, take half a day off, go to your child’s/niece’s/neighbor’s preschool, and ask if you can teach a 30 minute lesson in English. Come back and tell me how it went.

For those of you thinking, “Well, teaching is important, but not as important as saving lives,” I again balk at this. In fact, I argue that teaching, especially the early, formative years of childhood, is the most vital profession to halting our avalanching society today.

From the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, a recent report states, “Because teaching is a profession of practice, teacher education must focus on preparing expert practitioners who know their students, their subject-area content, and pedagogy in much the way that a family doctor must master the knowledge base of medicine as well as be able to understand patients and their symptoms to deliver a course of treatment that can achieve the best possible outcome.” There are two facets to this statement likening Teachers to Doctors, though. The physical training aspect, of course, but also the emotional and social aspect which affects the behavioral outcome.

If you look at the inner workings of the social strata wherever you reside, think about vital people such as the garbage wo/man, the taxi driver, and the banker. It’s possible these individuals move with a sense of pride and self-worth through the community based on two major reasons: 1. They are compensated well for the imperative work they do. 2. They are treated with respect because others could not/would not be able to do the work they do. If these factors are lacking, it is likely that these people who keep your city moving and ticking at a steady, clean, livable pace, are under valued and under incentivized. What this results in is poor motivation and hence, poor output. One might argue a chicken and egg situation here; that if the proper training had been done, higher quality output would be guaranteed and higher compensation and respect would ensue.

This is quite simply the infinite loop of the solution-less blame and finger pointing public school teachers are stuck in the middle of today, without much say or agency to make any changes to the status quo. Neither are they respected and well paid, nor are they offered quality training to bring quality education to our students. So both morale and knowledge are at an all time low in the sector of society who will determine the success of the future. Does this make sense?

In Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, only the top 1/3rd of any graduating college class are allowed to become teachers, and their students and knowledge economies are kicking ass. In America, under 23% come from the top 1/3rd and in India my guess is 95% of government school teachers come from the bottom 1/3rd. Low cost private school teachers typically have not finished 12th grade. And our steady decline in education is extremely evident. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education in the US says, “We have to reward excellence. We’ve been scared in education to talk about excellence. We treated everyone like interchangeable widgets. Just throw a kid in a class and throw a teacher in a class. This ignored the variation between teachers who were changing students’ lives, and those who were not. If you’re doing a great job with students, we can’t pay you enough.” What is keeping other nations from recognizing this same epiphany? What, once recognized, can be done to realize this dream?

Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, claims, “We need a new National Education Academy, modeled after our military academies, to raise the status of the profession and to support the R & D that is essential for reinventing teaching, learning and assessment in the 21st century.” Whether or not this is the answer is to be determined, as teaching is also not as simple as shooting a rifle, but perhaps it’s the training, commitment, and respect we need for a profession that’s been highly misguided.