When I first came across Randy Turner’s article on why young professionals should not become teachers, I was pretty upset. Though I have no problem with Mr. Turner offering his opinion, nor do I disagree with him on a number of points, Mr. Turner’s analysis of the teaching profession is nevertheless incomplete. For those not entirely immersed in the education industry, I would like to add some context to his thoughts. As an education entrepreneur, I do not claim to understand every nuance of the classroom. I am not a teacher, but I believe I can offer some additional insight as another key participant in our educational conversations. I spend hours of my life on a daily basis visiting classrooms, Skyping with teachers, participating in educational panels, speaking at education conferences, and collaborating with educators at various levels from around the world. I continue to be amazed at the level of passion and dedication I see from our teachers, and the awesome discourse taking place in our society on education reform.
Mr. Turner mentions several key points of discussion, including common core standards, self-learning, student evaluations, merit-based pay and tenure, among others, but his thoughts on guiding young professionals away from teaching and the general lack of value our society places on teachers are what truly caught my attention.
He said, “If I were 18 years old and deciding how I want to spend my adult years, the last thing I would want to become is a classroom teacher. Classroom teachers, especially those who are just out of college and entering the profession, are more stressed and less valued than at any previous time in our history.”
As someone whose entire life revolves around education, I can say with complete certainty that these points should come with some major disclaimers. First of all, I greatly value teachers. My family, fellow entrepreneurs, and our President all value teachers. There are easier ways for me to make money, but I choose to work in education for a reason. I’m passionate about the impact education can have on a person’s life. It’s reflected in the sacrifices my parents made when they emigrated from Bangladesh because of the value they placed on the American Education System. And it’s constantly a reference made by our president as recently as a few months ago at his State of the Union speech,
“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”
Sure, there are folks out there who don’t understand the entire educational eco-system in our country, or are too lazy to effectively dive into the dynamics within a school, or those who may randomly think “teachers suck and are the problem, not the solution.” But people who think like this are really no different than teachers who claim that they “aren’t valued by anyone.” This blame game needs to stop and is something I do not advocate on any level.
While I agree that a major problem here in the U.S. is that we don’t put teachers on a high enough pedestal within our cultural paradigm, that doesn’t mean the majority of American’s don’t value teachers. There are many ways to value teachers. As an entrepreneur, I think about the problem at hand and how to effectively, creatively and efficiently solve that problem. Everything else is a distraction. Pointing fingers at one another, complaining about the system without recommendations on how to fix things, or expecting unreasonable outcomes simply stalls progress and are some of the biggest distractions in the education conversation. Teacher pay, for example, is an issue Mr. Turner brings up that needs more focused attention, not just general thoughts that get lost in the mix.
Teachers are underpaid in our society, but to not trust evaluations from administrators above them or to pick and choose which feedback to accept from students beneath them (as Mr. Turner mentioned he did) is not the way to get the pay problem solved. Let me be loud and clear: every teacher in this country should be paid a six-figure salary. We found $2 trillion to fight the Iraq War, I know we can find a way to increase the average teacher pay from $56,000 for 3.7 million teachers to $100,000 or greater. We have the money to make this happen and I believe most teachers deserve it. Those not worthy, qualified, or passionate should leave teaching and pursue other dreams. Teaching is no different than any other profession, and I would encourage those who love education, but choose not to teach, to help in other ways. Become an education entrepreneur, lobby Congress for more rights, help reform the Teachers Union to better align with outcomes, and get involved with your local school board. All of this is in our control.
And finally, with regards to the difficulty and stress associated with being a teacher, I fully empathize due to my own world-view as a struggling entrepreneur. I went years without a paycheck to help identify and improve teaching in this country with the aid of technology. I did this without any guarantee of funding, success or market adoption. But make no mistake – it was entirely my choice to pursue this path in life.
Teachers have that same choice, and if young entrants in this field decide the profession is not for them, that is OKAY. People switch professions all the time, and it’s tough to understand what we’re meant to do sometimes without immersing ourselves in the task at hand. But to tell young graduates not to even try teaching — as Mr. Turner does — is something I’m completely against. It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught in my life by my parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors — and I strongly disagree with Mr. Turner on this point. It simply isn’t the American way. The power structure in our country works from the ground up — not the top down. President Obama showed us how powerful this can be in his first election campaign. He laid a grassroots path and showed us it can work. Let’s take that formula and find ways to bridge it into our everyday lives. Let’s bridge it to education reform, medical reform, immigration reform, and others. Let’s take back control and not simply give up or avoid professions just because they are hard. Let’s fight to give teachers the help, pay, respect and recognition they deserve — and most importantly, have earned. We need more teachers entering the workforce – not less.