Friday, December 14, 2012

Wanna Teach?, Part Two

On the same day I wrote the "Wanna Teach?" post, the Wall Street journal had an op-ed piece by Randi Weingarten. Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers of which I was a member back in the days of Albert Shanker's presidency. I was also a member of the National Education Association for as many years. In the interest of full disclosure, I always preferred the AFT to the NEA. The AFT was, and I'm assuming it still is, an AFL-CIO affiliate which was more appealing to me with my industrial background.

Ms Weingarten's piece in the Journal calls for a "bar exam" for all teachers in order for them to become licensed, just like lawyers must do. It's a simple but brilliant idea, especially since it comes from a teacher's union and because it's one of the few reform ideas that actually makes sense. If you were to allow anyone with a Bachelors degree and a "B" average teach school, like the Sate of Indiana is calling for, then give them the exam and see what happens. However, would you grandfather in all teachers currently working? They currently have a board certification for teachers but not in all disciplines and it's not something you normally would volunteer for unless you were real sure of the outcome due to the work involved. And who wants to say they flunked their board certification test? If everyone currently teaching had to take the new exam, it would be very interesting to see the pass/fail percentage. My initial thoughts on the new test would be everyone desiring to and currently teaching takes the test. Those currently teaching who don't pass the test get a couple of years to improve and then retest. Maybe even a retest every ten years for license renewal as long as it's not cost prohibitive. I'd need to think about this a little more before jumping on that bandwagon, but there is nothing wrong with upgrading the professionalism of the teaching trade, especially if it leads to improved salaries, working conditions and educational outcomes.

I got a comment on the previous "Wanna Teach" post by tvi and he questioned the money teachers would receive under the new plan. It would be my guess that the people applying for teaching positions just on their Bachelors degree would be those who are recent graduates who can't find work and need to start paying off their student loans or perhaps someone who leaves industry after a stint of twenty years or so. Either way, to keep these people in the classroom when their starting pay is going to be less than $30K per year is not going to be easy. The young ones will spin their wheels in the classroom until a job in their field comes along and the older ones will find that it's a lot tougher than anticipated for the meager compensation received and will go back to industry or retire. There will be exceptions. Some will stay the course. Probably, either the real slugs or the real dedicated ones. Most, however, will leave before they even get the experience needed to become a good teacher, let alone an excellent teacher. With all the turnover, the schools never have to pay top dollar and the state keeps the money the teachers invested in the pension fund before they were vested. The students suffer from the constant stream of inexperienced teachers but the politicians can boast of the reforms they implemented and the extra money that should go to the pension fund they can piss away on something else. Since the states have cut education funds, the schools will find it easier to balance their budgets but the educational outcomes won't improve. Little Johnny still won't be able to diagram a sentence or make change for a dollar.

However, if you combined the AFT teaching examination with the "B" or better student, then you would be on to something. I'm guessing a "B" student would be in at least the top 25% of his class, so you're not going to get any slugs, at least academically. And if they are willing and able to pass the teaching exam, you can be fairly certain they've got the hustle and the ability required. So if they are smart and able to do the job, take the 20 year pay scale school corporations typically use and drop the bottom ten years. Start them on year number eleven and watch and see how things improve. Education reform is easy if you ask the right people and pay an attractive wage. (BTW, Live Long and Prosper has a nice take on the Indiana part of this. Sort of a WTF were you guys thinking viewpoint)

And I read in the paper where former State Superintendent of Education, Tony Bennett is soon to be employed in a similar position in Florida. It'll be interesting to see what comes out of that besides him working on his tan. Especially if you read this in the Washington Post.

On a related educational note, I checked back a few posts and I had recieved a comment from Mike Roest recommending a blog written by his shop teacher friend, Ryan. I checked out the blog and his friend is indeed a shop teacher - metal working, welding, rides a motorcycle (not sure that's a requirement but definitely a common thread) and doing lots of cool things in the classroom. Plus he's from Canada. Not we've got international representation here at Shop Teacher Bob's Tech Ed Clearing House. I added the link to the education sidebar - check him out, he's doing good things. Thanks to Mike for reading and the recommendation.


tvi said...




Traveling Pirate said...

Did Weingarten recommend
thea Bar Association like exam given by the teachers union? Now that would be interesting. One could say, "Well, that one hasn't passed the Teachers Bar but the State still says they can teach. I'll pass." This could be an interesting idea, teachers making their own type of certification.

Shop Teacher Bob said...

Unfortunately, the politics of education is pretty close to where we are with the rest of the politics in this country. Education used to be a much more local affair and with local politics it was easier to keep on eye on things. Now that it's more of a state and national issue, it's as contentious as the rest of the political issues . Even if you could get the politicians to come together with people who actually know what needs to be done, eventually it would come done to money and any hope of meaningful reform would all fall apart.

You can rest assured, however, if I were king there would be some changes made.

Shop Teacher Bob said...

Traveling Pirate: I don't recall her going into specific details but as all teachers know, if you are going to have valid results, you need a valid measuring instrument. Likewise is you're going to be licensed to drive a car you need to demonstrate your ability to do so before hitting the streets. I think teachers could police themselves rather well if given the chance. The American Welding Society determines who qualifies to be a certified welding inspector or a certified welding educator and then grants the appropriate license. No reason the AFT & the NEA couldn't come up with a test and grant a license based on the results. The states could then decide if they wanted to hire someone based on the outcome. It is indeed an interesting idea. Once again, it seems to me the problem is a lack of good leadership. Too many Grandma Marilyn's at the top.

Traveling Pirate said...

Agreed! Too many Grandma Marilyns running the show.

ON an unrelated note, I saw in the Chicago Tribune that the Gene Siskel Film Center is having a film on Gaudi this month. Here's the website:

Shop Teacher Bob said...

Traveling Pirate: Thanks for the heads up on the film. Looks like a good reason to go back to Chicago while I'm off.