Who wouldn’t love a job that paid $78,000 per year, for only 9 months’ work? Apparently, a lot of us. I wouldn’t teach in a Chicago city school if you paid me…$78,000 per year. I wouldn’t work anywhere as a teacher. Neither would a lot of other people. Why is that? Even a modest teacher’s salary, divided over 9 months, at 7 hours or so per day, is a good living. So what’s the problem?
It’s not the money. No matter how many times we hear about low teacher pay, it’s not the money. And it isn’t that you have to be a saint, have to have a calling, to teach. Not true at all. Almost every parent has taught his or her child to speak—no mean feat.
Every single day, on every playground and in every home, you see 5 year olds teaching 3 year olds how to play a game, make a mud pie (Sorry, that’s an old reference. I should update it to ‘transfer an iTunes playlist between smart phones’), beg Mom for another cookie. The teaching covers the gamut from math to science to psychology. So teaching is not an exalted profession—it is a universal human trait, and we engage in it almost from the time we can talk.
Teaching in today’s classrooms—now that requires sainthood. The reason? Lack of control. Study after study after study (though apparently none that have been read by education officials) ties employee satisfaction to greater control over their environments. And teachers have about the least amount of control of their environments of anybody.
Coal miners, assembly line workers; think of the job with the least amount of autonomy that you can. None of them hold a candle to teaching in the present environment. There is no other situation where those who are supposed to be the managers are forced to contend with murderers, rapists, thieves, and other unsavory criminals, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Further, these criminals are placed in close proximity to their potential victims, and the teachers are tasked with keeping the criminals reined in and the victims safe. And that’s not even their primary mission. Their supposed goal is to effect enough improvement in the test scores of all of their charges so that the funding to their schools is not jerked away. It doesn’t matter whether the charges are interested or uninterested; whether they know the material or don’t have a rat’s chance of learning it—the end result is the same for all. And if the learners don’t all measure up to the stated objective, the teacher is held to blame.
I’m shocked that anyone chooses that sort of thankless quest, no matter how much it pays. There is no other system where a manager who does not have the power to hire and fire is held responsible for the productivity of his crew. And there’s the problem right there. The teachers do not have any power to decide who is in their class. They don’t have any power to remove those who evidence a total lack of interest in staying. They don’t even have the ability to remove known criminals. And that is what is criminal about our education system.
To truly invest in our teachers, we must cede control of their classrooms to them. Right now, the students know that the teachers have no authority. As a consequence, the students have no respect. Only teachers who are lucky enough to have been born with a certain force of personality have any chance of holding any sway over the actions of their students. And that is no way to run what is supposed to be an institution of learning.
If we want learning to take place, we have to give teachers the power to impose the ultimate penalty: expulsion from the class. We have so skewed the “right” to an education that we have stripped that right from those who want to learn by elevating the right of criminals to remain in the schools.
Want to help teachers out in a way that would make a difference? That would allow them to do what they want to do—be a bright star in the lives of young people? Enable them to proudly proclaim, “I turned that child’s life around!”
Get the criminals out of the classroom, so the students who want to learn have half a shot at being able to do so. Maybe we can’t release 12-year-old ne’er-do-wells onto the streets, but we can pen them up somewhere safe until they reach 18, or decide that they’d rather get an education, whichever comes first.
This concept of the same treatment for everyone doesn’t work when everyone isn’t the same. All that we are accomplishing is turning our schools into prisons. The students who want to learn and the teachers who want to teach are being punished, and our nation is suffering as a result. We must give teachers the power over their own classrooms if we want an improvement to ever be made.
Being in a classroom must be a privilege, not a right, and a hard-fought one, at that. Teachers must be able to deal with any misbehavior immediately and sternly, if they are going to have any kind of a fighting chance to do the job for which they were hired. If teachers are allowed to be in control of their classrooms, many of the problems that run rampant through our schools will disappear in an instant.
The teachers will be free to teach. Their talents will be allowed to bloom; their ideas to thrive; their creativity to rule supreme. They will feel free to experiment, and their students will be the better off for it. After all, the teachers were trained to teach, not to manage a prison. They don’t have the skills to handle hardened criminals, and there is no need to put them and the other students in that awful situation. Invest in a meaningful way in our teachers: Let them teach!