Huffington Post education writer Jessica Prois recently pondered how we can close the “revolving door” of teachers who enter the profession but leave within five years. She reported from a conference in which a panel of folks engaged in this work offered their thoughts. The most provocative response came from Lowell Milken, who leads an education think tank.
Milken . . . highlighted research that said high-achieving countries recruit from the top one-third of a graduating class, but in the U.S., only 23 percent come from the top third. Milken said it’s unrealistic to think the U.S. can emulate the world’s most successful systems because there are too many other opportunities for top graduates to pursue in the U.S. But he said if we want to uplift the profession, it needs to be restructured to benefit teachers. He argued that right now many see the profession as a “flat career.”
“They enter as a teacher, 30 years later they’re a teacher and the only way you can elevate yourself is to go into administration,” he said. “If you become a teacher and don’t have a shared leadership role that you can evolve to in a school and help drive instruction, then what kind of career is that?”
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Milken is correct that we need to uplift the profession, and it does need to be restructured to benefit teachers. And if the teaching profession continues to move increasingly towards high-stakes test preparation, then he’s right—it is a flat career, and people with options will continue to pursue other paths.
But if we restructure the profession the right way, then there truly is no way to elevate it. The process of teaching and learning—in its purest form—is among the most exhilarating experiences human beings can have. For anyone who goes into education, there is simply nothing more pleasurable that this.
Try this. First, write up a job description like this:
Now hiring: talented people of high character to work with diverse group of young people. Must have a broad range of talents, interests, and experiences; must be excited about life. Teach only things about which you’re passionate to small groups of students who will have no other incentive to sign up for your class except to learn from you. You will not be permitted to give students grades or prepare them for standardized tests. You will be expected to teach courses in all the areas of life that excite you, not merely those confined to a single discipline.
Then, post it at the most prestigious universities around the country. Watch how many responses you get from the “top one-third” of the graduating class.
Finally, after thirty years—that’s thirty years of teaching, learning, playing, exploring, mentoring, and sharing their lives with thousands of young people—ask them if they think their career is flat.
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