Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Join me on Fantasy Island

Come Join me on Fantasy Island

We are often told that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  News sources tell us that many states are suffering from a shortage of teachers.   Virginia is reporting over 1000 teacher vacancies.  Some states are reducing school to 4 days a week because they lack money or staff.   One of the solutions has been to raise teachers’ salaries.  In Maryland, they are above the national average.  But that solution has been tried before to no avail.  People still don’t want to teach. 
It is a new year, so time for some dramatically new ideas.   Come join me on Fantasy Island.
First of all, what kind of people do we want as teachers.  Here would be my list: smart, self-motivated, invested in helping kids.   We could teach them the pedagogy skills.  Next we need to look at the kind of working conditions that people with those skills want.   I think smart people want to be able to utilize their abilities.  They do not want to be micro-managed.   Self-motivated people want to be rewarded based on how well they perform.   Wanting to help kids means giving teachers the freedom to do that.
So, if I accept my description of the kind of teachers we want, and I do J, then what do we do about teaching and teacher preparation.  We will need to step on lots of toes and get lots of oars out of the water.
First of all, let’s dump the teacher certification.   The rules are arcane and just lead to lots of box checking.  Plenty of people would be great teachers who are not interested in checking off 3 credits here, a Praxis test there.  Teacher certification may have been instituted to ensure some quality in the teaching ranks. It certainly has not worked. The unions have made sure terrible teachers, certified or not, get to keep their jobs.  If we do away with teacher certification, the state department of education bureaucrats will need to find more productive work.  And then there are the teacher ed departments in colleges and universities.  What will they do when teachers only need to take classes when there is something they want to learn rather than check off a box.  Those budgets will take a terrible hit.   But we might get some exciting people with new ideas signing up to teach.
Now that we are done with certification, we need to institute a “means” test to be in the classroom.  The means is not how well a teacher keeps up with the pacing guide. Aspiring teachers would present themselves to a state or local agency.  They would need to enter into a 2-year internship with a master teacher in whatever field the aspiring teacher wants to teach.   The master teachers would have a specific skill set that teachers needed to have.  The master teacher would teach the skill set to the intern.  The intern would both learn on the job AND take course work to develop a conceptual framework for the skill set.  Courses could be taught by the local college or by the local school system.   Again, in order to become a licensed teacher, the individual would need to demonstrate both proficiency in the skill in a real classroom AND understand the whys behind the skill.  Teachers would be paid based on merit and proficiency at their job. And teachers would be allowed to develop relationships with kids.  Sort of like great physicians generally make more money than average ones in their field.  Ditto other professionals.  Elementary teachers could hug kids again.  People who misbehaved would be fired.  The union could not keep them on the job.  But the vast majority of students and teachers would remember again what it meant to have a magical relationship with a teacher. Unions would need to stop being unions and go back to when they were professional associations.  They could advocate for educators having a seat at any table that was determining educational policy.  They might even offer some of those training courses.  What they would not do is negotiate for salaries or benefits.   And they would not be able to keep weak teachers teaching.
Even though recreational marijuana just became legal in California, I promise I have not been smoking any on my Fantasy Island.
Truly, do you think anyone would ever join me on my island.  One thing I know for sure, Fantasy Island would be known for the best teachers anywhere.

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