Make Teaching Attractive Not Ugly

If one wants to attract the best talented people to teaching, the recipe is to make teaching attractive.

But that recipe concocted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is not what is happening in teacher training programs.  Gordon Ramsay, where are you?

This week I drove out to CSUN for a three-hour late afternoon meeting with other cooperating teachers (those who work with student teachers), a rare chance to share triumphs and challenges of assisting up and coming instructors.

Instead of having a forum with free-flowing conversations, we were corralled into three separate pullout sessions on new strategies introduced in credential courses.  One was on how to differentiate instruction, one on how to incorporate UDL, and another on MTSS.

What, you don’t know what UDL and MTSS stand for?  Neither did I until that evening.   The initialisms stand for Universal Design for Learning and Multi-Tiered System of Supports.  Has quite a ring to them, as in “my head is ringing with more education gobbledygook.”  Now I know what my teaching has lacked over the past 28 years.

Instead of recruiting vibrant people to the profession, allowing them to flourish with their natural ability, credential programs often tamper that energy with endless training on the latest learning strategy du jour.

They keep demanding things of teachers that sucks away the joy of working with young people.

More of “be sure you to do this, this, and this” instead of exploring the wonder of working with kids.

They keep laying on more work for the student teacher to do, as if it isn’t stressful enough to require student teachers to work for nothing for a whole year while taking several courses in the evening.

When I asked what requirements were removed to make room for the new ones, the facilitator looked stumped.

The demands of the profession rise as positions in math, science and special education remain vacant.

Much of this nonsense is coming from the state.  In fact, there is a new mandate from the Commission that all cooperating teachers have 10 hours of training to ensure they are qualified to work with student teachers.

So, for those of us who have been doing it for years, none of that experience evidently counts.

Funny how that was never a requirement before.  In fact, usually the way a credential program finds cooperating teachers at school sites is by contacting the districts who then email the administrators who then email teachers with an “anybody want to do this” query.  Experience and quality not necessary.

Here is where the state should step in and expect that the cooperating teacher has a certain amount of ability working with or training other teachers.   But to come up with a random 10 hours of training along the lines of UDL and MTSS is BS.   Even the credential folks are at a loss on how to pay people for the required amount of training.

Frankly, I can’t see how a young person full of beans survives intact after going through the shredder of a teacher training program without losing heart.

A teacher who sparks learning in young people does so not because of MTSS but because that individual connects in a human way that can’t translate into a topic on a college syllabus.

I asked my current student teacher if she is getting any sense of enjoyment from any of her classes.  She said only one professor inspires her.   That’s not enough, and not the way to attract people to teaching.

On a side note, the cooperating teachers were paid $50 for the three-hour workshop and travel time to and from CSUN.   That breaks down to $16.66 an hour.   Just another reason to earn a teaching credential.


The Student Teaching Sacrifice

Those who go into the teaching field are often viewed as giving individuals due to the lack of financial rewards and nowhere is that truer than with those who train to become teachers who sacrifice an entire year’s salary.

In California, most teacher candidates work in classrooms for no pay for a whole year before earning a teaching credential.   Due to the demands of teaching during the day and taking teacher coursework in the evening, holding down a job to make ends meet is nearly impossible.

Unpaid student teaching is a rite of passage that has rarely been challenged. Teachers have accepted less than stellar working conditions for so long that not being paid while learning the trade doesn’t seem to raise eyebrows.  

In the FAQ section of Purdue University’s website on teacher candidates, here is what the college says about students who wish to work while they teach:   “Student teaching is a full-time commitment that leaves very little time for other business. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you do not take on additional responsibilities, such as part-time employment, while you student teach.”

When I was a student teacher, I was quite fortunate that my boss at the time allowed me flexible work hours so that I could continue living on my own while doing my student teaching.   But nearly all teacher candidates must stay at home or live with a working spouse as they earn their credential.

While their school work hours are not as long as a full-time teacher’s, they still need to develop lesson plans in a precise, detailed format, have the lessons approved by the classroom teacher who is supervising them, deliver the lessons to the students, establish communication with parents, attend school meetings, and grade student work.  

I work with student teachers and see how much effort they expend.   If they have sleepless nights, it should be due to figuring out how best to unravel a Shakespearean sonnet for students, not because they can’t pay a utility bill.

Even the name “student teacher” sounds somewhat derogatory. Imagine a patient in a hospital being examined by someone called a student doctor instead of a medical intern.   Doesn’t sound as comforting, right?

That’s why if nothing else changes about the lot of the student teacher, let’s start referring to them as teaching interns.

And like medical interns who get paid a small salary, teaching interns should likewise receive a stipend. Have the school district and university jointly contribute which, if nothing else, recognizes the hard work it takes to learn the teaching trade.

The Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) has begun doing just that by inaugurating an Aspiring Teacher position this school year that pays teachers-in-the-making almost $16,000 plus benefits (equivalent to half the regular beginning teacher’s salary). MNPS Director of Innovation Derek Richey says that they desire student teachers to work in a more “paraprofessional capacity.”

For those wishing to cut corners, accelerated teacher credentialing programs such as Teach For America offer full-time paying jobs after participants complete a mere five weeks of instruction; nice for the teacher, not so nice for the student.

What’s ironic is that the least trained people entering the profession don’t have to financially sacrifice as the most trained do, with the latter group ending up with more college debt.

If we desire the best people teaching to our children, then we need to stop the student teacher indentureships. We may never know how many college students who might have made wonderful instructors turned away from teaching due to the financial burden they would have had to endure.