Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dishonest Voucher Arguments

There are many arguments to be made for a school voucher program-- lord knows we've been hearing them for decades now. Some of them reveal a different concept of what public education is for, or a values system that gives more weight to entrepreneurial opportunity than actual education (it's more important to open markets than make sure that all children are getting an education). I disagree with these value choices, but I can at least recognize arguments that are built on those foundations.

But some voucher advocate build their arguments on smoke and unicorn farts and yeti holograms. There's a good display of this style of voucher advocacy at the National Review site this morning, courtesy of Will Flanders. Flanders is Research Director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a way-right Bradley-funded thinky tank; he has a PhD from Florida State.

Flanders wants us to know it's time to stop pussy-footing around with vouchers and just use "the language of their intellectual progenitor, Milton Friedman." Because vouchers are not a form of welfare (because if they were, that would be awful).

Flanders opens that by arguing for vouchers based on fairness, voucheristas have short-circuited their case for vouchers vouchers everywhere, and if they want to expand, they will have to take a new rhetorical tack. (Because the education debates are not about education, but about PR strategy). If vouchers are to level the playing field for poor families, then we'll never be able to expand vouchers for wealthy families.

Then Flanders tries to make his This Is Totally Not Welfare argument.

There is a critical difference between school choice and most welfare programs. Social-welfare programs are redistributive — taking from those of means and giving to those without. School-choice programs are different. In their purest form, they take money that is earmarked for a student in a public school and transfer it to an alternative private school that the student’s parents believe will provide a better education. The money is spent regardless of where a student’s parents decide to send him to school.

There are several levels of high-grade baloney here.

One is a standard choicer sleight-of-hand. We're taking the students' money, the family's money and giving it to the choice school. Except we're not, because that money is taxpayer money. This is a dishonest argument because conservatives already know the counterargument because they unleashed it against the Bernie Sanders Free College for Everyone Plan. 

But Flanders can't admit that vouchers spend tax dollars because that would mean this IS welfare-- Wealthy McGotbucks pays his school taxes and the government gives a chunk of that money to a poor kid so that the poor kid can go to a private school. Voila-- redistribution of dollars. 

So to avoid the problem of arguing for what they hate, voucheristas have to pretend that the money is"spent regardless," like a pile of money that just magically appears wrapped up in a bag marked "school." But as anybody from Wisconsin can tell you, schools are paid for with tax dollars, and just like all other tax dollars, the extraction of school tax dollars is open to argument, negotiation and general circumvention. No conservative anti-tax folks are looking at the pile of school tax dollars and saying, "Well, clearly that's a cost we have to just keep paying and there's nothing we could do about it by way of lobbying or legislation or electing a governor bent on crushing the public sector."

Then Flanders is back to arguing that Friedman's ideas are really good. And from notions such as the idea that parents will be rational actors who pick schools based on hard data, and not folks making highly emotional decisions about their children while floating in a market clogged with asymetric information where the only "hard data" they have is marketing fluff from private schools-- well, Milton was full of it on that one. 

Nor is there any reason to accept, as Flanders does, the notion that having to "compete for students" will somehow create better schools, when the very notion of treating students like prizes to be collected rather than human beings to be served is a disastrous notion (for so many reasons, but consider this one-- in a system where students are prizes to be collected, some will be more valuable than others, and the ones who are least valuable will be the ones who most need the help of the school). 

As advocates, we cannot and should not abandon the fairness-based argument for school choice. But if we are to realize Milton Friedman’s vision of an educational free market, we must couple our appeals to fairness with appeals to the economic liberty on which his vision was based. American parents of all classes and income levels deserve nothing less.
I give Flanders credit for one thing-- at no point does he try to argue that achieving Friedman's goal would provide a better education for every student in this country. But he also fails to state the obvious-- that a voucher system would be, in effect, a federally-funded free market, which is its own special kind of oxymoron. Not that we don't have such things. 
To make sure that people don't go hungry, we collect a bunch of tax dollars and redistribute them, voucher-like, to some folks who then go buy food in a free market store. Flanders and his colleagues suggest that we collect tax dollars and redistribute them to some folks who then go buy school enrollment in a free market. Flanders seems to want to distinguish between these two by not means-testing recipients of school vouchers on the theory, I guess, that when you redistribute tax dollars to non-poor folks, it's not welfare. Which is one more reason that Flander's argument is not only wrong, but intellectually dishonest.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Forbes Says 18 Dumb Things

Forbes has some super-duper insights to offer about education, courtesy of Omri Ben-Sahar and Carl E. Schneider. If you don't recognize those names from the world of education, that's because Ben-Sahar is a "law professor at the University of Chicago, the editor of a leading academic journal, and a global expert on contract law and consumer market regulation" and Schneider is "the Chauncey Stillman Professor for Ethics, Morality, and the Practice of Law and is a Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Law School." In other words, one more set of experts who are public education amateurs.

With its title, "Teacher Certification Makes Public School Education Worse, Not Better" announces its intention to be outrageous, and it does not disappoint. It's a short article, but it squeezes in 18 dumb things. Let's count them of:

1) Who does not believe that education is vital, that it is crucial to personal success, economic prosperity, and social mobility?

According to several pieces of research, social mobility is stalled in this country. Educational inequity is more appropriately viewed as a symptom, but for some folks, portraying education as the cure-all for our current rampant inequity uses schools as a convenient whipping boy and lets every other creator of inequity off the hook. Meanwhile, what does the data show about the rich and successful folks of this country-- are they rich and successful because of their great education?

2) America has excellent higher education. Yet primary and secondary school students have long performed poorly on tests compared with students from many industrialized countries.

I'll remind you that the authors work in higher education. The old "score badly on standardized test" factoid is well-worn, but pointless unless you're willing to offer evidence that the score actually means something. Do low test scores correspond to some measurable dip in American prosperity? Did we get President Trump or the Great Recession of 2009 because standardized test scores took a dive those years?

3) This chart

The US is spending more money all the time, and the other lines on the chart don't justify it and still our test scores don't go up (though why we don't throw that line on the chart too, I do not know). And we have no interest in considering any possible explanations for increased expenditures for education. Just keep it simple-- we spend All This Money!

4) The key to successful education is to attract good teachers.

Yup. Teachers are the only important factor in education, meaning, of course, that everything that ever goes wrong with education is the teachers' fault.

5) We can try to do so by raising teachers’ salaries (as commonly advocated). But this strategy also seems to fail, partly because higher incomes go to both good teachers and bad, giving bad teachers as much incentive as good ones to become and remain teachers.

There are several things wrong with this. Take your pick. You could start with the dopey notion that "good" and "bad" are solid state characteristics of teachers, like height or hair color. But lets look at some others.

One theory is that if you offer more money, you increase the pool of teacher hires and then-- then- you get to pick only the good ones.  You could even use money to outbid other districts for the top people. Or-- and here's a radical notion-- you might believe that teachers respond to incentives other than cold, hard cash, like respect and support and cushy offices. After all-- isn't that why you higher education stick around even for low collegiate pay?

Finally, folks who have never spent time in an actual classroom tend to seriously underestimate how taxing it is to be to teach poorly. Of all the jobs in the world that a person can drudge away at, day after day of disengaged misery just to get a paycheck, teaching is by far the worst. Sure, some people head toward teaching because they think it will be easy; the figure out otherwise pretty quickly. Students are unforgiving and the work is demanding, even when you half-ass it. You've seen the figures on the huge number of teachers who quit the field within the first few years-- do you think perhaps a large portion of those are people who aren't so great at the work?

Teaching badly is hard and taxing. Not that many people are going to keep at it just for the check.

6) Higher standards make things worse.

After dismissing higher pay, the writers consider tougher standards. And then they reject that idea.

For two reasons. First, more stringent certification standards do little to keep out bad teachers. Second, such standards deter excellent prospects from entering teaching.

They have part of a point here, arguing that we don't know how to identify and test for teacherly excellence. But then there's #2-- the idea that higher standards reduce the teaching pool. Wouldn't you like to see some kind of support for that odd idea? Well, too bad. The writers will repeat the assertion two more times, and throw in the idea that teaching standards also create teacher shortages, but at no point will they offer any evidence or support. Nope-- the best teacher candidates want to enter a field with low standards.

7) It is no surprise, then, that researchers find little difference between teachers with or without a certificate. Allowing genuine alternatives to certification thus does not hurt the quality of learning (and even can improve it, some studies suggest).

Sigh. Once again, by "little difference" what we mean is "little difference in scores on a single narrowly focused standardized test." Which simply doesn't qualify as a measure of teacher quality. Another of the link takes us to the work of Eric Hanushek, which has been refuted more often than a Ouija board reading.

8) If we want schools to hire better teachers, we should expand, not contract, the pool from which schools may draw.

What was that part about not raising the pay for teachers? But let's not expand the pool by making teaching more attractive-- let's just open up the job to anybody with a warm pulse.

9) It also creates teacher shortages, especially in chronically understaffed subjects like science and math, in poor communities, and in schools with high proportions of minority students. Budgets are not to blame (they have not been cut). Licensing barriers are the culprits.

Yup. People are just lined up to take those jobs. And there's a clear training and career path for anybody who wants those jobs. But somehow, it's the need to get a teaching license that's holding them back. And certainly not any factors that make the job less attractive, like pay or treatment or support or respect.

10) The writers have been comparing teachers to doctors and lawyers, but argue that doctors and lawyers have a body of knowledge that can be easily tested. But there's another reason that teachers don't need the same kind of licensing as other professions.

Doctors and lawyers are also hired by people not competent to judge their performance. No such protection against bad teachers is needed because they are hired not by individuals but by experienced administrators.

I don't even know what to do with the idea that doctors and lawyers are hired by incompetents. But I do know what to do with the idea that experienced administrators can be the gatekeepers of the profession. First, not all administrators are experienced. Second, since organizations like Teach for America and Relay Graduate School have opened the profession  to anyone with a pulse, I'm not prepared to assume that every administrator is fit to sort teachers.

11) By far, the most effective way to improve teacher quality is to require administrators to selectively retain, after the first few years of experience, only the more effective teachers.

But administrators can do this now. Administrators can totally catch or release whatever teaching fish they catch. So what could be the barrier the writers are concerned about. Oh, come on-- you know. We've been slow to getting to this, but here we go.

The biggest barrier to improving teacher quality is therefore union contracts that block such selective retentions and, with lock step pay, eliminate success-based compensation.

Yes, those damned unions.

It's not clear to me what "selective retention" the union thwarts, but the assumption here that "success-based competition" would somehow improve teaching is a deeply dumb idea without the slightest bit of support. In fact, Microsoft abandoned it and Sears is currently dying from it.

12) Truth be told, incumbents like licensing because it reduces competition from entrants, keeps incomes high, and raises the status. Why else require florists, manicurists, or auctioneers to get licenses to cut flowers, nails, or deals. Do you really need 300 hours of supervised training to shampoo hair safely (in Tennessee)? Or seven years of training to be an interior designer (in DC)?

Yes, teaching is pretty much like being a florist. And licensing professions is just about keeping all the goodies for yourself. Because lord knows, by keeping a lock on the profession, teachers (and florists) have reaped huge financial rewards and awesome status in society.

Of course, it's also possible consumers like to know that somebody has actually checked out the person who's doing the work. It's also possible that people in a given profession have a stake in sharing that profession with people who are competent and who don't give their colleagues a bad name.

13) We are so committed to the idea of teacher certification that eliminating it may take getting used to.

Particularly if nobody ever makes a good case for doing it.

14) American higher education (we observed) is world class in ways that American primary and secondary education are not. Yet university faculty members are not certified to teach.

Please. Professors Ben-Sahar and Schneider both have very advanced degrees, because you don't get to be a university professor without a terminal degree (and, in some cases, publication).
University faculty go through their own sort of special certification. And regardless of their high self-regard, I've spoken to more than a few former students who agreed that no, their college professors aren't certified-- or qualified-- to teach.

15)  Instead, any college that develops a reputation for a weak faculty will struggle to attract students and the tuition they pay.

Colleges will be comparable to public K-12 schools on the day that all students must attend college and no colleges can select their own student body. In the meantime, saying that teaching staffs will be kept in line by free market forces is skipping a whole argument in which someone successfully makes the case for turning public education into a free market system (spoiler alert: such a case can't be made).

16) For many years, Americans have been admonished to pay more to get educations comparable to those many other countries provide. Americans have paid more but have not gotten that education.

Oh, passive voice. Who exactly has been doing this admonishing? And "comparable" in what way? And how do we know we haven't gotten it.

17) Abolishing certification requirements is not only virtually costless, but it would eliminate the onerous costs certification exacts.

Virtually costless? Letting any warm body walk into a classroom is virtually costless? I do agree that the cost of becoming certified has become onerous in some states, but that's an easy fix-- pointless programs like EdTPA could be shut down tomorrow.

18) And it offers the best hope of bringing more capable people into the teaching that all agree is so vital.

This is the final line of the article, and nothing in it has been proven in any of the lines that came before. Great teachers are somehow born and not made, and they alone can fix everything, and they are apparently distributed randomly throughout the population. Somehow by lowering standards, lowering pay, destabilizing pay, and removing job security, we will attract more of them and flush them out.

That's 18 dumb things in one short article. I suppose Forbes could get better articles if they paid less and let anybody write for them.

ICYMI: Hot and Sticky Edition (7/23)

I don't have a lot for you this week, but what's here is, as we say, cherce. 

A Detailed Critique of a PBS Run Education Documentary

PBS has seen fit for $ome rea$on to run an advertorial for school privatization. Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch here provide a detailed rebuttal. You'll want this for that dinner when your brother-in-law opens with, "Hey, I saw this thing on PBS that says you all suck."

Teacher Tests Test Teachers

Rachel Cohen with a great piece about how VAM and its ilk are increasingly coming under well-deserved attack.

On Common Terminology and Teaching Writing

Paul Thomas takes a look at writing instruction and the importance of shared terminology.

Why Teachers Need To See Themselves as Experts

Jose Luis Vilson on one of my pet peeves-- the teacherly tendency to be all humble and yield the mantle of expert to folks who don't deserve it.

The Deep Irony in Betsy DeVos First Speech on Special Education

This will be the ongoing mystery of DeVos as ed secretary-- does she know she contradicts herself, or does she just not care.

The Many Ways We Are Deprofessionalizing Teaching

Do you read Nancy Flanagan every week? You should. Here she is looking at just how badly, widely and deeply folks are chipping away at the teaching profession.

Want To Kill Your Economy? 

Not strictly an education piece, but a clear look at how MBAs who are takers rather than makers have been blowing a hole in the economy. At a minimum this is a good piece to keep in mind every time someone starts talking about approaching education like a business.

The Economist Doesn't Do Their Homework

The Economist decided to offer its own special view of the newest wave of ed tech this week, and it's just further proof that when economists try to talk about education, it carries all the authority of Justin Bieber explaining quantum physics. It would not be worth the bother, except that this continued phenomenon of people who don't know education explaining education to other people who don't know education-- well, this is how bad ideas get into the world and keep flapping around loose. We need a new word-- maybe "economsplain"-- for when economists try to mansplain teaching to teachers.

The piece starts well enough. Once upon a time B. F. Skinner decided to create teaching machines but after a burst of interest, they just kind of lost steam. But that mini history lesson is to set up the next paragraph--

Since then education technology (edtech) has repeated the cycle of hype and flop, even as computers have reshaped almost every other part of life. One reason is the conservatism of teachers and their unions. But another is that the brain-stretching potential of edtech has remained unproven.

Emphasis mine. I marvel sometimes at the awesome power of my profession. What is teh alleged narrative here-- ed tech people have come up with awesome programs that totally worked and were beloved by students and families and everyone was poised to make them a widespread hit, but teachers folded our arms and said, "I don't care if my students are learning, this shall not stand"? Is that it?

Or could it be the second part-- the "remained unproven" part. The "some ed tech amateur's idea of a great program for learning turns out to be a total dud with live students" part.

On some level, the Economist seems to sort of get this. They've bought the idea that Zuckerberg et al are now going to change the world with "personalized learning" (so you know they've been reading the press releases that come across their desk). Still, they can see at least part of the problem:

This could help hundreds of millions of children stuck in dismal classes—but only if edtech boosters can resist the temptation to revive harmful ideas about how children learn. To succeed, edtech must be at the service of teaching, not the other way around.

That is the perennial ed tech pitch-- "Teachers, this tool will totally help you if you just stop doing what you've been hired to do and do something else" or "Just change your whole job to fit the tool we want to sell you." Kind of like telling builders, "These revolutionary welding rods will help you build houses faster, as long as you stop building houses out of wood or brick."

But then we're back to the good old standard scare stats-- like only 30% of teens in OECD countries become proficient in science, math or reading. What does that really mean, and how do we think we know such a thing? Never mind-- just believe that you've got trouble right here in International River City!

And computers alone can't fix it! No, really! Many schools have computers, and the sky is still falling! Simply running school stuff through a computer does not make it magically effective! Also, in other news, water is wet and the sun will set in the West tonight. This is one of the unending dances of reforminess-- some edu amateur runs up to breathlessly announce, "I have a sudden insight!!" that they then share and teachers are just too generally polite to say, "No shit, Sherlock."

The Economist is excited about some of what's out there, from which we can only include they failed to do their homework on this piece. For instance, they toss out the Summit personalized education thing, noting that Facebook engineers created it "for free" but failing to mention that it is Zuckerberg's baby-- so they worked on it for free by working on it while Zuckerberg paid their regtular salary? Is that free? But Summit is troubling in many, many ways which highlight one of the problems of "Personalized Learning," because Summit does not resemble an education program so much as an education-flavored data mining program. And while The Economist later notes that PL cannot do away with actual teachers, Summit is designed to do just that (all you need is a "mentor").

The writers also declare that PL must narrow achievement gaps (which is problematic in ways that you can see if you just imagine education as a race between slow and fast runners-- how exactly do you close that gap) and then they cite Rocketship Academy or Achievement First. Rocketship is a great example of all the things that can be wrong with ed tech, and an example of how the initial bloom can quickly turn to blight

And here's one of those ridiculous 99%-go-on-to-college stats, the easiest stat in the world to produce. If you want all your graduates to go to college, just make sure that any students unlikely to go to college never become graduates.

Finally, the Economist notes that success depends on teachers embracing ed tech. But they are still sidestepping the key issue:

They are right to ask for evidence that products work. But scepticism should not turn into Luddism.

False dichotomy. Because mostly what happens is we ask for evidence. Sometimes we even suspend judgment and see what kind of evidence we can collect in our own classroom. And then when the evidence doesn't appear, we move on. That's not Luddism. That's just doing our job, which includes doing our homework. And if the Economist wants to econosplain ed tech to us, they should do their homework first.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dear E: Time Management

Dear E:

As the calendar clicks closer to your departure for your first teaching job, I'm going to continue with my offerings of Useful Things To Know. It's been a while since I was a first year teacher, but I've certainly watched plenty start out since then, so I can pass on what I've seen.

I'm sure your college gave you some of the standard practical rules for teaching. Don't smile until Christmas. Make friends with the secretaries. But here's one of the major things they never tell you when you're starting out.

There won't be enough time.

Everything takes longer than you expect it to, and lots of things you end up doing over as you discover how you should have done it the first time. Grading papers. Scoring tests. Entering grades in the gradebook. Creating lesson plans and designing materials and then redoing all of it based on how well things went the first time. In my first year, I made the mistake of living across the street from my high school. I got up in the morning, ate, walked to school, did as much paperwork as I could before classes started, taught all day, worked in my room for an hour or two, walked home, got some supper and sat on the couch with supper and a stack of papers on the coffee table in front of me and worked till I went to bed. Rinse and repeat. On Saturdays and Sundays, more of the same. And that wasn't enough.

Granted, I'm an English teacher, and that comes with some expectations about paperwork, but your discipline isn't that different. We all start out with a well-developed idea about what a Really Good Teacher would be doing, and then we have the slowly dawning realization that we won't be able to do this.

The point here is not to discourage you. The point is for you to realize that 1) this is normal and 2) it gets better.

You can focus on all the things you aren't getting done and all the ways in which you aren't measuring up the image of a Really Good Teacher, and by focusing on the negatives, you can convince yourself that you suck and are no good at this and you've made a terrible mistake in your career choice.

Don't do that.

This is normal.

The longer you do this, the more efficient you will become. You will be faster at doing things, and you will be smarter about what things need to be done. In the meantime, the need to perform pedagogical triage, to figure out how best to use the not-enough-time you have, is a great opportunity to reflect on your practice, to teach even more mindfully. It will be a chance to think about what is most important and how best to work toward that objective. This is a great opportunity, so embrace it and don't beat yourself up when you drop a ball or two. Every part of this process is a chance to get better. It is why even the roughest first year in the classroom can teach a teacher more than all four years of college.

One last note on the too-little-time thing. No matter how behind and beleaguered you feel, take time to care for yourself. Skype your brothers and niece and nephews. Play a dumb game. Watch a dumb show. If you are a scrapped down shell of a person, you can't give your students what they need. This will take all of your time if you let it, but you have to save some time selfishly for yourself. You're out of college now-- this is a great time to drop the high-maintenance relationships from your life, because you don't really have time for them.

You can totally handle this. Now get back to packing-- you don't have much time left.


Friday, July 21, 2017

How To Recruit Teachers

There isn't a teacher shortage. Not really. But there is a shortage of districts and states that are successfully attracting people to teach careers. If I can't get a dealer to sell me a Lexus for $1.98, that does not mean there is an automobile shortage. The "teacher shortage" is really a shortage of $1.98 teachers.

Something is wrong. Not only do we have a drastic drop in the number of proto-teachers in the pipeline, but the profile of the teacher pool is off. The teacher pool is overwhelmingly female and white. Males and minorities are not represented in the teaching force in numbers that remotely resemble the demographics of our student population.

So how do we get and keep the teachers that we need?

After all, it ought to be easy. No other profession gets to pitch itself to every single young person who could possibly pursue it. So what are we missing?

To understand how to recruit teachers, we just have to remember how the teachers we have found their way to the classroom. And the most important thing to remember is how they start.

It's not a deep, complicated thing. Almost every teacher in a classroom started out as a student in a classroom, and that student had two simple thoughts--

1) I kind of like it here in school.

2) I can see myself doing that teaching thing.

That's it. If we get a student to harbor those two thoughts in his teenaged cranium, we have successfully created the seed from which a future teacher could grow. But looking at those two thoughts can also tell us where our edugardening has gone awry.

Kind of like it here.

No excuses. Speak when you're spoken to. School to prison pipeline. Assumption that black and brown students are a problem. Crumbling buildings. Lack of even basic supplies like books and paper. Curriculum that is centered on test prep. 

None of these are going to make a student feel as if school is just like a second home. And schools that carry the greatest weight of discrimination and mistreatment are the greatest anti-recruitment. If you have made a student feel unwanted, unwelcome and unsupported in school at age fifteen, why would that same student consider returning to school at age twenty-two?

I can see myself doing this.

The most fundamental part of this is the modeling of staff. It's hard (not impossible, but damn hard) to imagine myself doing a job if I can't see anybody like myself doing the job.

Beyond that, students will be influenced by what they think the job is, the job that they see teachers doing. Are male teachers of color responsible for breaking up all the fights in the building? Do coaches get to follow a different set of rules than other staff? Do lady teachers have to keep their heads down and never talk back to a male boss? Do some teachers spend half their time doing drill and drill and worksheet band dull, boring drill? Any such unwritten rules are noted by students, and factor into how appealing the job might be.

Do students see that teachers struggle financially, holding down extra jobs to make ends meet? Do students see their teachers treated with respect? Do students see teachers supported with resources and materials, or do they have to buy supplies out of their own pockets? Do they see the job turned into a low pay, low autonomy, de-professionalized drudge? These factors also affect whether students can see themselves living the teaching life.

The Path

Of course, there's more care required for these early seeds reach full flower. College teacher programs may support the fledgling teacher or throw more obstacles in the path (I often wonder how many male teachers of color we lose to repeated "Well, what the hell are you doing here?") Then we get to the luck of the draw with the match-up for student teaching, and finally, the problem of individual district hiring practices.

The Circle

And then we arrive back in the classroom, where the person who was once a student may have to withstand one more assault on their desire to teach. And we don't have time to get into all of that yet again.

Retention is a huge problem, easily as big as recruitment, but here's the irony-- the recruitment problem and the retention problem are the same problem, because the best way to recruit the teachers of tomorrow is by giving support and respect to the teachers of today. You cannot dump all over today's teachers and expect students to say, "Oh, yeah, I'd love to jump into that pool of pooh."  You cannot reduce teaching to mindless meat widget drudgery and expect students to say, "yes! Someday I want to be a soul-sucked functionary, too."

Of course, there are folks out there for whom the death of the teaching profession is a goal, not a problem. But for the rest of us, the path is relatively simple and clear. Elevate and support the teaching profession, and the people who look at it in action every day will want to join in. If you want good seeds, you have to tend to the plants that are already growing.

Dear E: Mind the Old Farts

Dear E:

You have landed your first teaching gig straight out of college. That's a great thing. Back in 1979, I landed my first job on the sixteenth try-- and then was laid off at the end of my first year, after which I came back here, where it took me several more years to move from covering sabbaticals to getting a job of my own. And as you know, it took my wife several years to finally land a gig of her own. Despite everything you've heard about a teacher shortage, it can still be tough to land a job straight out of school, so kudos to you.

You're getting packed and ready (congrats on the new apartment) because you leave in about a week, so I won't get to see you long enough to ramble on like an old teaching fart. Instead, I'm just going to write you letters which I'll stash here where they're easy to find. You are both a former student and family-- it's the least I can do. Ha.

You're headed for Kansas, which means you are probably going to encounter that a species that exists in almost every school-- the cranky old farts.

Cranky old farts are not always actually old; I've known teachers who were cranky old farts in their twenties. But when I say "mind the old farts" I mean it in the same way as "mind the first step" or "mind the poison ivy by the door."

Cranky old farts will not only tell you why you're making a mistake to work in their district, but why you should avoid teaching altogether. Kansas in particular has had it pretty rough for several years now, and I expect that many of your future co-workers are feeling pretty beaten down. They are going to tell you how the pay sucks and how the work conditions suck and how the gummint is totally screwing up the teaching profession these days.

Ignore them.

It's true that education is a complicated minefield these days, and it's true that in your career, you won't be able to close the door and safely ignore everything that's going on outside.

But this is the work you have been preparing for for four years now. You are excited about this, and you should be, because this is exciting and important work. You are going influence the course of peoples' lives. You are going to run your own classroom. You are going to be a real by-God teacher, and that should feel pretty damn awesome.

You do not have to apologize to anyone for your excitement and enthusiasm or the time and effort you put into doing the work. When people ty to bait you into denigrating the job ("Boy, you must have been desperate to take a position here"), you are absolutely entitled to fix them with your big, youthful smile and say, "I'm happy to have a job here. Who wouldn't be?"

Don't get bogged down in the side crap. There will be time in you career to worry about all the other stuff, but for right now just go ahead and put all your time and energy into doing the work the best you can. This is going to be one of the most intense, amazing, exciting years of your life-- savor that and don't let anybody take away from that.

Love, PAG