Gen Z – Please Don’t Teach

Gen Z, iGen, post-Millennials… Please don’t teach. Just don’t do it. Save yourself the headaches & the heartache. Keep a little more, or a lot more, of your sanity, your mental health, your physical health… … … Please, don’t teach. Don’t work 60 hours a week for a paycheck that won’t cover your monthly expenses, not to mention the student loans that you have no reasonable time-line for paying back. Please, seriously, don’t teach. Take your brilliant minds to business school & major in finance. Or use your gift for numbers to become an accountant. Do something positive in a field that treats you like a professional, any field, but don’t teach. Forget what you’ve heard & don’t follow your passion, if your passion is to teach. Do something, do anything, just don’t teach. Don’t think about the best teachers you had, the ones who inspired you to be the best person you could be. Don’t think about the students who need great teachers, in order that they may grow up to be successful and live fulfilling lives. Don’t think about anything remotely close to the idea of teaching. Don’t do it — it won’t do you any good; you don’t want to teach.

Consider all your options, and then, Don’t teach! Market demands have proven that the value in a teaching degree is about 1/2 of the value you’ll get from a business degree (dependent upon state & school district), which means you earn less, by a factor of x depending on which locale you chose for your masochistic adventure. Don’t teach for the same reason that increasing numbers of people don’t go into squirrel grooming, it doesn’t pay. It doesn’t pay monetarily, when measured against people with similar educational attainment working in other fields. And it doesn’t pay when measured in respect levels, as we’ve witnessed in State, after State, after State.

It really is basic economic principles at work – supply, and demand. While it may be easy to dismiss the simplicity of this idea, imagine how freaked out a State or community would be if all of a sudden, they didn’t have adequate staff to open the school doors. Imagine the parents, employers, local political officials, all wondering the same thing, “what are we going to do with all these kids!!!?”. If they don’t have adequate staff to fill the positions (supply), they will be forced to do 1 of 2 things. Option 1 involves choosing to do nothing and watching the chaos as it ensues. This is unlikely because, well, they’re politicians, they enjoy their positions in elected office. The more likely scenario is that they would start doing the difficult work of figuring out how to fix the situation (addressing demands). And because most of them believe very strongly in the principles of capitalism, they will start off by asking, how much will it cost. That’s when we’ll start moving the needle. That’s when we can start encouraging the following generation to consider a career in teaching. But not now, not today, not for a while.

Until that day comes – Gen Z, and Millennials in college who are still considering options – please, don’t teach. Find something else to do to fill your days. Take the passion you have for working with children and run a marathon, once a week, or climb K2 every year, or rescue baby gazelles as they’re being chased toward crocodile infested waters… by hungry lions. Use your passion to fuel your successful business venture that will land you on the World’s Billionaires list, next year. Put your passion into a campaign, your own campaign, be your own campaign manager, win the election, have a big party, and then fight like hell for education funding. But please, whatever you do between the ages of 25 and 50, Do. Not. Teach.

Do not fool yourself into believing things will change before you have your own classroom. Don’t believe the lying liars who say they will act on the demands of the educators. Don’t give in to the desire to do what’s in your heart. Don’t encourage others to teach — and ask others not to encourage you. Encourage each other to build things, design things, count things, manipulate things, order things, re-order things, deliver things, fix things, explain things, comfort things, enlighten things, send things, explain things a 2nd, 3rd, 27th time, accept and reject things, praise things, imagine things, coach things, invent things, and encourage things. And if you do all of those things, in some other job, you can pretend that you spent a day teaching, and that will be enough, even if it’s not. Because in whatever it is you’re doing, you will find some modicum of respect and dignity that you may not find while teaching.

Please, don’t teach. Too many of the folks who are charged with ensuring the basics, e.g. 1) students have adequate resources, 2) teachers and support staff are paid a living wage commensurate with the job they do and the educational degrees they have earned, 3) school buildings are maintained — they simply don’t care. They tell us they care, but their actions belie their true colors. Please, please, don’t do it. And if you’re thinking, “well, maybe I’ll just go the route of college professor, they’re well paid and highly respected”, think again.

This isn’t just a problem in our pre-k – 12 settings, it spills over into post-graduate coursework as well. So many of our current professors are working in adjunct positions. Many universities have witnessed significant increases in the cost of a 4 year degree (in the past 25 years) while simultaneously cutting back on the number of full-time tenured professors, not to mention the wages paid to the part-time professors. It’s almost as if America has a secret desire to dumb-down the electorate (I want to believe that’s not the case). At any rate, your plan to spend the extra $50, $75, $100k, to get that PhD and work in the ivory towers at a prestigious, or solid, or well, you know, school, isn’t going to work out for you. You’ll be eating Ramen noodles and Oscar Mayer sandwiches on tasteless white bread, and teaching 4 classes a semester, until you die, at the age of 83. Don’t teach.

Please, don’t teach. You will be blamed for what you do, for what you don’t do, for doing too much, or doing too little. You’ll be blamed by parents when you push the child to be more engaged. You’ll be blamed by parents when you don’t push hard enough (because you can see when a student is struggling and not able to take on additional stressors). You’ll be blamed by administrators for not putting in enough time… outside of working hours, and you’ll be blamed by those same administrators for being too stressed out, which negatively affects your work, because you aren’t able to achieve any semblance of balance in your life. You will be blamed by the far-right fanatics who believe that Rush and Ann, and others, are spot-on when they blame teachers for the liberalization and downfall of America. You will be blamed for the poor grades a student receives and you will be blamed when those same students are held out of extra-curricular activities due to those poor grades. You will be blamed for the U.S. rank in international standardized tests (which mean absolutely nothing when it comes to the opportunities a child will receive, that’s almost purely a socio-economic factor), you’ll be blamed for the world coming to an end, whenever that happens to take place. You cannot escape this blame, it comes with the job, it follows you wherever you go, it weighs on you, and weighs on you, and weighs on you, until you quit, after a year or three. Or maybe you’re one of the tough teachers, the gritty and determined who stick it out for eight, ten, fifteen years, before throwing in the towel. Regardless of years spent teaching, you will wish you had listened to me, and simply never started. Because once you start, it’s hard to quit. Please, don’t teach.

If I have failed in my efforts, and you decide to become a teacher, to become a servant of the people, the young people, the ones who will one day shape our world into a better place, as each generation tries to do, do yourself one favor. Promise yourself that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how horrible the day, the week, the year has been, you will remember that it’s about the kids; all of the work you put in is for the good of those children, our future. The sacrifices you’ll make matter. You’ll be a cheerleader, a life coach, a nurse, a referee, a warm smile, a comforting hug, a rock, a loving, supportive, consistent, optimistic, inspirational, and empathetic force, in many lives; in essence, you become the bootstraps that so many will pull-on as they “lift themselves up”. Don’t feel defeated or disheartened; hold your head high, you’re doing the work that few can fathom and fewer can accomplish. Make an impression — an impression that lasts a lifetime. But please…

 

 

The State of Education

We often hear people say that “the schools are broken” or the system has failed, or some other negative comment which is usually meant to cast aspersions on those schools having the most difficult time turning out “high achieving” students. Districts with classrooms bursting at the seams, dilapidated buildings in need of an extreme makeover that would baffle Ty Pennington, and a budget that had to cut all of the arts & music programs, are examples of the most visible needs at these schools. Add to that list a full-time nurse being cut to part-time (because we all know that students only get sick or injured on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday mornings), and sports programs and other extracurriculars that are bare-boned and funded through private donations, athletic fees, and whatever money the district hasn’t spent on the basics. Several of the schools that fit this mold have been featured in books by Jonathan Kozol and others.

Conversely, we occasionally hear that people are very happy with the school district their child attends. Their school has a high graduation rate, most students score ‘proficient’ or above on standardized tests, and they experience no shortage of funds for the band, the football team, and the swimming & diving squad. The high schools in these districts often make Newsweek’s list of “Best High Schools” and they are just as good, if not better, than many of the private schools in their area.

The truth is, both of these scenarios are examples of some of our nation’s school districts. But many more districts fall somewhere in-between, and are not often featured in magazines or books. They serve a wide variety of students who come from a wide variety of cultures/backgrounds and fall all along the socio-economic spectrum. These districts produce world-class scientists, authors, athletes, civic and business leaders. They also see students who are unable to complete the K-12 system, some of whom become homeless and highly mobile, and other students who have difficulty functioning in society. This is what our typical school district looks like. It is not one extreme or the other, rather somewhere in between and always hopeful that with the next new program, they can alleviate some ill that is preventing their school from making the “Best” list.  Our educational system is not, on the whole, broken. But neither is it in prime condition. Major systemic overhauls are needed.

Many districts are in need of fixes in one or two or seventeen areas. Those fixes, the majority of the time, require funding. This does not always imply new funding; some cases require money to be shifted from a program that isn’t working to a new program that has exhibited promise elsewhere. But more often, it does require additional expenditures. This, financing, is often the area where policy matters get hung up (whether it’s education policy or anything else).

As we’ve recently witnessed in Maryland and Minnesota, deciding which programs are funded, and how the state decides to spend its tax revenues, is highly controversial. Governor Hogan (R-MD) made the choices that he, and some of his constituents, believe to be right. While other Maryland citizens, especially those engaged in the profession of educating children, disagree. Not every district in Maryland is in dire need of additional funding, but there are districts that could benefit greatly from extra funds.

Sometimes funding is necessary to upgrade infrastructure or some other tangible feature. But more often, funds are required to provide those things that are not as easy to put a price on. Professional development is one area that schools can choose to cut back on, if they are experiencing a budget shortfall. This may seem like a fairly inconsequential cut but imagine the auto mechanic who is asked to work on new cars, using new technology, and never receiving any instruction about the new automobile features or how the technology works. Providing ongoing professional development is the best way to keep teachers up to speed with the ever-changing world, which means their students will have the opportunity to keep pace with their peers in surrounding districts.

Another area that is often overlooked, until it’s out of control, is class size. Somewhere in the history of education, a consensus was developed about how many students should constitute a typical class size . It is pretty standard for 20-25 students to be in a class, in the typical elementary classroom, and a few more in the typical middle school and high school class. This has worked fairly well for many students—not all. The problem is not the average class-size in the typical school. The problem is when budgets are cut and class-sizes explode, and teachers are told that they have to deal with it, just like any other professional would. The problem is two-fold; many teachers will do what they have to do to make it work, which means they’re putting in more hours outside of school while making the same wage. Meanwhile the students, the BIG losers here, get less attention, fewer questions answered, and more competition for the same amount of resources. And if we look at which schools have the most overcrowded classrooms, we find the majority of them to be in inner-cities.

Which brings me to the issue that many people in education circles don’t talk about. An overcrowded classroom in the inner-city of Minneapolis, or Baltimore, or Los Angeles, or any other large American city is very different from an overcrowded classroom anywhere else. Inner-city schools, on average, have more students growing up in adverse conditions, than schools in suburban and rural areas (and for clarification, urban does not always equate to inner-city but all inner-city schools are within urban locales). Children growing up in inner-cities are more likely to experience poverty and violence (Thompson, 2014) and this makes learning more difficult, especially in overcrowded classrooms.

If we want to make one major policy change that will have the greatest effect on closing the achievement gap (something that I’ll get into more in another post), reducing class sizes in inner-city schools would be that change; in my opinion, and a host of others (Chingos & Whitehurst, 2011). It’s true that reducing class sizes from 20+ to 10-12, or 35+ to 15-18, would cost a lot of money. But if we think about the amount of money we are currently spending on those former students who didn’t get a quality education (not for lack of valiant attempts by the teachers) we can’t afford to not make the investment.

Class size reduction is not necessary for every student to be successful; but if we are truly interested in providing every student with the opportunity to achieve the “American Dream” (assuming it can still be achieved by the average Joe or Jane), then we owe the students that are growing up under the most difficult circumstances access to more tools so that they might achieve results similar to those outcomes the more advantaged students are attaining.

The state of education is not all bad. Millions of great people wake up everyday and set out to change the world by inspiring young minds. They don’t do it for the money or the fame (shocking, I know), they do it because they care about their students. By providing these teachers and schools with the resources they need to perform their jobs at the highest level, we can make our economy more stable and our society more equitable. Both of which are relatively important for a nation’s long-term viability.

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Take time to stop and notice what’s not directly in front of you, like wild flowers.
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Education is not only a human endeavor.