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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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