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Teaching is a Gift, Not a Profession
Last month, a board superintendent in Rhode Island fired all 100 teachers and administrators in one failing high school. The union had refused to agree to the conditions she wanted to improve the school (where only 3% of grade 11 students were proficient in Math), and so she fired the lot of them. (Unfortunately, she later relented when the union backed down, but for a few weeks there it looked like something drastic was actually going to be done!)

Flat Classroom SkypeImage by superkimbo in BKK via Flickr

Many of us whine and complain about teachers--including me, and my kids aren't even in the school system! But one of the issues that we perhaps fail to remember is that teaching is a gift, not a profession. We have made it into a profession, arguing that one has to have all this schooling to teach. Truthfully, though, all that schooling will not make someone a good teacher, any more than voice training will help someone who is tone deaf. You have to be able to teach in the first place. Education can make you better, but it cannot create a gift that isn't there.

We all know good teachers. We all know people who are excellent in the education field. But not all good teachers ARE teachers. Many of them are businessmen and women, or they're executives and lawyers. They are teachers, but they're not working as teachers. Similarly, many who are working as teachers are not necessarily very good ones. Having a job does not equal having the gift.

Often teachers and parents get into crosshairs, because parents complain about teachers and teachers complain that parents don't back them up (often teachers have a major point here). But much of this rancour would disappear if we could just agree on terms: having a teaching job does not make one a teacher. It means you are being hired to teach; it doesn't mean you can do it. And if teachers' unions and boards of education would agree, then perhaps we could focus on people who actually COULD teach, rather than just people with a degree.

I am not saying that degree is useless, by the way; learning strategies to control a classroom or to teach to different learning styles is very useful. But it can't replace natural giftings. And trusting our kids to people who can't teach, or don't want to teach, simply because they're in a union is silly, and it's an insult to those who really CAN teach who can't get seniority because they're too young or something.

Thomas Sowell also has a unique slant on teachers, which I think is true in the United States, though not quite so much in Canada where our standards for entrance to teachers' colleges are higher. But here's his argument:

Statistically, those who go into the education field have the lowest GPA of all the professions. They are not the brightest of the bright.

They are, however, the kind of people who enjoyed school. They had friends. They didn't buck authority. They did reasonably well. They liked extracurricular activities. The kids who were busy with part-time jobs, or who were too smart for their own good, or who didn't like authority, did not go into teaching. They started their own businesses, or got a more prestigious career.

JERUSALEM - OCTOBER 09:  Raneem (R), a 4th gra...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

What that adds up to is that teachers, by and large, are those who don't question authority, who enjoy the collegial atmosphere of a school, and who aren't the brightest of the bright. Obviously there are exceptions (and those exceptions probably are the gifted ones, who went in to teaching because of a higher calling), but in general this is true.

My experience bears this out. I can remember three teachers I had in my entire school life who were gifted and who made a difference. The rest were just filling time. My high school daughter, who is taking school online, is always correcting her chemistry teacher for errors. My nephew, in grade 9, had to argue with his math teacher about how to convert percentages to fractions.

I think parents and teachers would have much more respect for each other if we hired based on natural aptitude for teaching, rather than just whether or not someone had a teaching degree. I know tons of people who could teach well without necessarily having those credentials--in fact, perhaps they could teach better because they've been working in the real world for a while. If we had people who could truly teach, rather than just people who had the right letters after their name, our students would do much better.

And besides this, there's a larger problem with public sector unions, both in the States and in Canada, being so entrenched that no major dents can be made. Public workers now earn more than private sector workers, and an economy cannot survive like that. I am not arguing that teaching should be paid less; only that if it's being paid a lot, then we should at least demand performance and certain standards. We should be able to lay off teachers who can't teach. And we should be able to shrink the public sector, if we have to, for the good of the economy.

And, for that matter, for the good of the children. Apparently one Los Angeles school board has given up trying to fire incompetent teachers after spending $3.5 million dollars trying to get rid of 7--and only succeeding in getting rid of 4. The teachers' unions are so strong that nothing can be done to get rid of incompetent teachers who are stealing a year of education from children's lives.

At some point in the near future all of this is going to collapse. Our schools--and especially our school districts, with all the administrators--are bloated. Our government is bloated. And we're not getting what we pay for.

If we demanded results, like they did in the private sector, things could be fixed. But they won't be until the teachers' unions and the public sector unions lose some of their power. And I have absolutely no idea how that is ever going to come about.

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At 10:06 AM , Blogger Nurse Bee said…

You homeschool, right? So why do you even care about teachers?

I am not a teacher (obviously), but I have many good friends who are teachers and most of them are excellent. They are intelligent, hard-working people. Maybe I just happened to know the ones who are the expection, but I don't think so.


At 11:26 AM , Blogger AnneZ said…

There is some truth in this argument, but there are also a lot of assumptions that are not borne out in practice. My father was a teacher in the US for 35 years, and then moved into an administrative role in the county school board. During that time, he witnessed several schools that had always been top schools in the county deteriorate into bottom schools based upon test results. The faculty did not change, but the student population demographic did. He was often frustrated by the fact that assumptions were made that the problems were because the teachers weren't doing their jobs when in fact the real problem was that the students weren't receiving support or high expectations from the home front.


At 2:01 PM , Blogger Kelli said…

I've taught in both the private and public schools in Florida and I have to say that Sheila hit the nail on the head with this post!

Each INDIVIDUAL teacher is different, even though he/she follows specific curriculum guidelines and standards. That's one of the reasons why we HOMESCHOOL. I have a bachelor's degree in education and what better than to teach my own children?!

The whole "your kids aren't going to be socialized" argument only goes so far and just isn't true. That was my only hesitation about homeschooling and now that I am my childrens' educator, I have completely switched sides. My children are VERY social and enjoy Sunday School, birthday parties,etc. and they love being with other children.

I remember one of my favorite college professors saying, "When you're too burnt out to teach, STOP!" Many teachers just don't do so. I, personally, wasn't burnt out when I stopped teaching.

Three of the MANY reasons of why I stopped teaching was because I was expecting my second child, felt called by the Lord to stay at home and raise my children instead of someone else and my paycheck didn't outweigh the cost of daycare.

I've been home and educating my children for 3 1/2 years now and our family has been so richly blessed by our decisions to do so. I wouldn't have it any other way. Not a day goes by that I don't thank Jesus for this blessing.


At 4:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I agree that teaching is a gift; however, the fact is that true gifts are rare. To follow up on your metaphor, if we only allowed gifted musicians perform, there would not be enough musicians to fill half (maybe even a third) of the orchestras in the world. If only the gifted teachers taught, there would not be enough teachers to reach those who need to be educated. As it is we don’t have enough teachers.

I think we need to understand that world is not divided between gifted people and incompetent ones or virtuosos and tone deaf people. There are ranges in between both extremes. And, just like with moderately talented musicians, for teachers, training can make the difference between a poor performance and a good one. Furthermore, I’m not sure how one could possibly test for the teaching gift. Unlike a musician, a single performance is not enough to demonstrate that one is in the possession of this gift.

And, even if we found that a person was in possession of this gift, how would we encourage them to teach? Teaching is still an underpaid profession. It’s quite true that many excellent teachers are found in other fields, particularly high paying fields. I believe this is part of the reason that teachers have low GPAs. The students with higher GPAs also want higher pay checks.

The fact is, because so many natural teachers are migrating to other fields, we’re left with a teacher deficit. Our need for teachers is higher than the teachers we have. Because of this, teacher prep programs are pushing through unqualified people in order to meet the need for teachers.

At my own University I have noticed that there are two standards—one for subject majors and one for education majors. The education standards are considerably lower. These lower standards are not only producing lower quality teachers, but the lower standards trickle down to the students.

When gifted teachers do make it into the classroom they are often waging a war on three fronts—against students, parents, and administrators. Students don’t want to do the work and are disrespectful and often threatening. Parents, when they get involved, assume the worst of teachers. And finally, against administrators who create asinine curriculum or education plans that don’t and can’t work—like teaching the literary term irony with the pop song of the same title.

The solution is then, not to limit the teaching profession to gifted teachers—there just are not enough of them—but to raise standards of teachers and to not dumb down the education standards imposed upon would be teachers. Then, once we’ve produced quality teachers, to support them.


At 8:19 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

To Anonymous: Thanks for your thoughtful comment! It was great, and I encourage everyone to read it. I think your conclusion is spot on.

Nurse Bee: I do homeschool, but my oldest daughter takes courses online with "real" teachers. So I do have a vested interest. But don't we all? Even if we homeschool, the fact is that the majority of students are being taught in public schools. And all of us, whether we have kids in the system or not, are thus dependent on that system for our future nurses, doctors, pilots, clerks, even government workers!

Besides, I have tons of family currently in schools, so I do care!

AnneZ: I totally agree about the student population. Teaching is increasingly difficult (if not downright impossible in many cases) when the student demographics are terrible. But what are you going to do? You still need to teach these kids. The solution, then, is to figure out how to get the best teachers there, and currently we're not doing it!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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