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Teaching's Diminishing Appeal

In case no one has noticed, public-school teaching is losing whatever limited appeal it once had as a career.  The Vergara v. State of California decision, if upheld, could well be the last straw. The reasons, however, preceded that widely-publicized ruling in June.  ("Preparing World-Class Teachers," EdSource, Oct. 9). 

The EdSource report makes seven recommendations, all of which are worthy of serious consideration.  But I maintain that the single most important reason that the best and the brightest college graduates avoid making public-school teaching a career is that the K-12 education system in this country treats teachers essentially as tall children. It's humiliating ("Why I Want To Give Up Teaching," The Hartford Courant, Jan. 17).

Yes, salaries are part of the story.  For example, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs in California plummeted to fewer than 20,000 in the 2012-13 school year.  This was a decline of 74 percent since 2001-02.  The average public-school teacher in California earned $68,531 (2011-12).  The average beginning teacher salary there was $41,259 (2011-12).  Nationally, the average beginning salary was $36,141 (2012-13). 

But I don't think that salary alone explains why talented college graduates shun public-school teaching. The demands of the accountability movement have turned classrooms into test-preparation factories, where teachers are increasingly evaluated by rubrics that turn them into obedient children.  Before I retired in 1992 from teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, we were given a list of instructional objectives for each class that allowed us to devise lessons we thought best met the needs and interests of our students.  There were no high-stakes tests. In short, teaching was fun.

It's a totally different situation today.  Paltry salaries, intense performance pressure, public naming and shaming, and eroding job security make the profession attractive to fewer and fewer college graduates.  If I were a young man, I wouldn't consider teaching.  It's too hard and too disparaged. There will always be a few college graduates who view teaching as a calling, in the same way that missionaries view their profession. But I think they will be fewer and fewer in the years ahead.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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