Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Call on Me

Sometimes when Jill and I are talking about education policy and politics, she mentions how one of the most problematic mythologies around education is the idea of the super-teacher -- that if teachers just want it enough and are committed enough, that will be the silver bullet that ensures every child gets a solid education. The problem being two-fold -- first, it's unreasonable to expect teachers to be superhuman, and second, that teachers are limited in what they can do absent fundamental, structural reform. Moreover, the super-teacher claim also is often used as a way of concern trolling against improvements in teacher working conditions -- the idea being that because "good" teachers are these altruistic Lifetime TV stars who are in it because they are "called" to the profession, they don't (or shouldn't) care how much money they make, how many hours they have to work, or what condition their classrooms are in.

This last argument was the one put forward by Alabama state Sen. Shadrack McGill (R):
“If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach.

“To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK?

“And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do. It’s the ability that God give ‘em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn’t matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.

“If you don’t keep that in balance, you’re going to attract people who are not called, who don’t need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance.”

One notes, of course, that this appears to make teaching different from nearly every other profession and, indeed, the basics of capitalist economics. For most professions, we assume that people are not altruists who do what they do "for love of the game". We don't assume they're purely mercenary, but we do think that performance is tied to pay and compensation. And the corollary is that if you want better people, you shell out more dough. If I'm repairing my roof, I can hire a cheap contractor who will likely do a shoddy job, or I can hire a more expensive one who will do the job right. You get what you pay for. This idea that the way to increase performance is to reduce pay so you only get the most "passionate" applicants is not, shall we say, a universally accepted principle, and certainly one Sen. McGill applies in his own life (he just voted to give himself a 67% pay raise. Apparently he's not "called" to legislate?). But teachers, for some reason, are a special case.

1 comment:

sonicfrog said...

DAvid... Great post.

I have two teaching credentials and have a few things to add about the myth of the "super-teacher".

But, I have to go work. When I get back, I'll post my thoughts.

I'll also link this to my blog when i get the chance.