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Do We Need Ivy-League Teachers?

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Sarah Fine was one of those high-achieving, socially conscious, Ivy-educated kids who we're always saying should become teachers. And she listened. She became a teacher. But this year, she's giving it up. The salary was part of it. The workload, too. But the biggest reason, she says, was more fundamental: Being a teacher just isn't respectable.

One of my former colleagues, now a program director for Teach for America, has to defend her goal of becoming a principal: "When I tell people I want to do it, they're like, 'Really? You really still want to do that?' " Another friend describes her struggle to make peace with the fact that a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession. "I want to be able to do big things and be recognized for them," she says. "In the world we live in, teaching doesn't cut it."

I often feel the same way. Teaching is a grueling job, and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it.

In their book "Millennials Rising: the Next Great Generation," sociologists Neil Howe and William Strauss characterize the members of my generation as "engaged," "upbeat" and "achievement-oriented." This is why we become teachers. We seek to challenge ourselves, and we excel at pursuing our goals. Howe and Strauss go so far as to call us a "hero generation." Our engagement also explains why we are leaving the classroom. We are not used to feeling consistently defeated and systemically undervalued.

It's not a mystery why this sort of thing happens. If we want teaching to be more competitive and respected, we could pay teachers a lot more money. If every teaching job paid $85,000 in its first year, and topped out at $200,00 for the best instructors, you'd have a lot more kids from Princeton applying for teaching gigs. And if a lot more kids from Princeton applied for teaching gigs, it would become the sort of job that's associated with kids from Princeton, much like i-banking and law. How much we respect a profession has a lot to do with who we think goes into a profession.

The question is whether we want to pump those resources into teaching. You often hear people say that it would be great to attract more Ivy-league kids into urban school districts. But would it be worth the investment? That is to say, how much of teacher quality correlates with educational attainment, or competitiveness of salary? If you hold the demographics of the kids constant, do teachers making more money show much better results than their underpaid colleagues? Or is it more a question of training and personality type and a hard-to-measure capacity to project authority and hold a classroom's attention? I don't know. But I'm sure a lot of you in blogland do. And luckily, I have this comment section where you can help inform me, not to mention your fellow man. It's like teaching, except no one will pay you anything at all for it.

Photo credit: Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post Photo .

By Ezra Klein  |  August 10, 2009; 9:24 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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Comments

'But I'm sure a lot of you in blogland do. And luckily, I have this comment section where you can help inform me, not to mention your fellow man. It's like teaching, except no one will pay you anything at all for it.'

So, essentially just like teaching.

Posted by: Fnor | August 10, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Teaching quality correlates highly with salary. If teachers were paid a lot more, they would teach a lot better. Trust me.

How do I know? Because I'm a teacher.

I mean, paid a WHOLE LOT more. Shhh. Just take my word for it.

Posted by: FearItself | August 10, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for paying teachers more (especially since my wife is a K-12 teacher!). But a practical problem is funding: Where will districts in the Mississippi delta get the money to pay teachers $200,000 per year? For good or ill, the vast majority of teachers are on the public dime.

That's the central question in performance-pay proposals: okay, so you start paying on performance, and let's suppose teachers do a great job responding, and everyone's academic achievement shoots sky-high. Does that mean that we'll be able to pay teachers $200,000 for their success? I suspect most advocates of performance pay are not only expecting but REQUIRING that most teachers fail to get the money.

Posted by: ShermanDorn | August 10, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

OT, but Ezra have you blogged anything lately about PYLL/YPLL (Years of potential life lost)? I first learned about the metric from your Health of Nations series. From the latest OECD data, the US ranks third last for female YPLL among OECD countries with data (Mexico and Hungary are worse) and fifth last for male YPLL (Poland and Slovakia are also worse).

For details see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Years_of_potential_life_lost

http://www.irdes.fr/EcoSante/DownLoad/OECDHealthData_FrequentlyRequestedData.xls

Posted by: crust1 | August 10, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

It's perfectly respectable when you come from a middle class background. Upper class may not see it as such.

No, we don't need Ivy League teachers. We need teachers who can create good activities and lessons, be organized professionals, and relate well to students. Yes, one needs a certain level of intelligence, but it doesn't have to be from an Ivy.

Posted by: bluelantern23 | August 10, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

This is another one of those areas where the US spends more per pupil and gets worse results. Obviously the money is not all going to the teachers.

Is it that teachers are paid too little or doctors and lawyers paid too much? I think Matt Y went to Finland or something a while back and this was one thing he brought back - that all are considered professions, pay roughly the same, and students pick the one they like best, not the one that will make them the most money.

An ivy league education is hugely expensive and whether daddy pays for it or the alums through their tax-deductible donations, is ANY profession other than making massive amounts of money going to be "worth it" given the cost?

Good luck to everyone who wants society to recognize them for their work. Most work is anonymous and thankless - in my experience anyway.

Posted by: luko | August 10, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I'm not so sure it's a money issue. I think all teachers would like to be paid more, and I'd like to see all teachers paid more, but as ShermanDorn said, the funding isn't there.

I'm not a teacher, but my sister, step-sister, step-father 2 aunts and 2 uncles all are or were. I think the issue is desire and empathy. The rate of burnout is high and I don't think teaching - like banking or law that you mention - is something you can continue to do if you hate it, just b/c it pays well. If you're heart isn't in teaching it will show in your work and regardless of salary or status you'll pursue something less directly engaged.

My sister and I have been having an ongoing discussion regarding specifically, teacher's licenses. I feel that the profession does not do enough to embrace new teachers - people from a background or education other than teaching. The barriers to entry, educationally and with certification, are too high. Furthermore the testing and certification process have not even shown to effectively predict or filter who will be a good teacher.

We should remove these barriers, embrace the type of individual (intelligent, empathetic and compassionate) who might make a good teacher, and recruit from the general talent pool, rather than recent grads who chose to study teaching at a young age and continue on out of a false sense of dedication to their degree - and thus burn out easier.

Posted by: zacksherwood | August 10, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Should Ivy League grads teach? Yes, if they're good at teaching.

Should Ivy league grads swarm the investment banking industry as in years past? No, if the returns remain as dismal to the economy as in recent years.

But think about this fact for a second - a teacher's annual salary is roughly equal to a year at an Ivy league institution (about $50K). Can the Ivy educated students really afford to teach if they want their children to be legacy students at the Ivy they attended?

Posted by: anne3 | August 10, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

From the article: Do my lawyer and consultant friends find themselves having to explain why they chose their professions?

She's joking, right? If a young lawyer got $1 for every crack someone made about her chosen field, she'd have enough money to repay her crushing law school loans twice over. Add to that working 2500 hours a year while your friends who went to business school are on vacation.

The grass is always greener, especially if you have the means to give it all up "to travel, write and try not to think too much about what I have left behind."

Posted by: JEinATL | August 10, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

It's not if you paid the current teachers more you'd get better teaching.
You'd get different people going into the profession, people who have many other options would probably choose those other options, given the pay. It's that simple.
As a school district, you'd have more options of people to choose from who apply for the jobs.
Like, currently, if you are a math or science person, well, you would probably not consider teaching as an option because the salaries are lower and you want a higher salary.
People go into teaching sometimes for the security of it, the idea that time off isn't such a big deal, summers 'off', etc. So it's not necessarily because they love teaching (altho, from what I've seen, it seems most do - I think you'd have to).

I know some people who leave teaching because they can't stand the administrative tasks that they need to do. That's not teaching - they love the kids and the teaching, but not the idiotic things the school system makes them do. If the teachers were paid more, it would make it easier for them (or, brilliant idea - get rid of the idiotic administrative stuff).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | August 10, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

The entire article made me roll my eyes.

Posted by: laser83 | August 10, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand why we particularly need Ivy league teachers; the reason a lot of TfA teachers do well is because they start off highly motivated! And then when they're no longer highly motivated because of the crummy job conditions, they're pretty much like every other teacher, except they quit.

Take, for instance, professors at small universities whose main job is teaching. Some of them are great! And some of them are pretty crummy. But they get paid well and have a high-status job (and all got PhDs, so they're pretty bright, to boot!). I think there's much more to fixing this than simply increased status.

Posted by: goinupnup | August 10, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

And, the comment above:

This is another one of those areas where the US spends more per pupil and gets worse results.

Of course we do! Just like healthcare...we are an incredibly diverse country - and our classrooms reflect that. It's not easy to teach 25 kids when the kids speak 15 different languages at home (what my cousin does). How does one do that and also get good results (especially since the idea is that these kids shouldn't be forced to learn english because, well, i'm not sure exactly why - but we don't teach kids english well enough - and well, if they graduate with not such a great grasp, what are their options?).

Some schools do well, but many in very diverse areas do not - in other countries, there is a homogeneous population, much easier to deal with (and also, the idea of education in a pop. such as that is easier too - many people in this country don't value education, but are forced to send their kids to school - so the kids don't think it's important...etc...).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | August 10, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I learned how to hold up banks from the old schoolers and now the government is holding up banks. The trouble is the banks they are holding up are broke. Holding up banks is more fun with a woman. I wonder if she would want to do a bank job with me. Transportation can be provided.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 10, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Since Ezra offered the invite to inform him...

There's an effort going on in NYC right now to test the efficacy of high teacher salaries. The Equity Project (http://www.tepcharter.org/) has opened a charter middle school which pays teachers $125,000, with a possible bonus of $25,000 more. And we'll see what the results bring.

NY Times article on the project at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/education/05charter.html

Posted by: dasimon | August 10, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Addendum to my prior post:

A previous NY Times article on The Equity Project school is at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/07/nyregion/07charter.html. It describes the hiring process and staffing decisions that the school has to make in order to provide higher teacher compensation.

Posted by: dasimon | August 10, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I'm for higher teacher salaries, but it's pretty unimaginable they can ever compete in a strict sense with big time legal salaries, as the numbers you raise would suggest.

So long as we equate esteem with high pay, and internalize a value system that reflects that correlation, we limit ourselves to pursuing jobs in law and banking. Perhaps the Ivy Leagues ought to train people to think harder about what constitutes human flourishing and which goods are worth pursuing--indeed, whose esteem is worth having.

Recall the exchange (in Robert Bolt's Man for All Seasons) between Thomas More and Richard Rich, when the latter, tempted to be unethical by lust for fame and wealth, asked who would know if he settled for being a good teacher. More: "Well, you would know, your family would know, your students would know, and God would know. Not a bad audience, that."

Posted by: FrBill1 | August 10, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Does low pay for teachers produce low performance because the teachers are unmotivated, or because the job only attracts and holds less capable teachers? I hate to imagine the trouble you'd get into if you tried to suggest the latter. Raising salaries wouldn't solve the problem then; you'd have to use performance standards or differential pay to force out less capable teachers. That could be a blood bath.

Schools here in Arizona are severely underfunded. Teacher salary is only a small part of the problem. Class sizes are far too large. In lower grades particularly, an oversized class is completely dysfunctional. Even with a reasonable class size it's very hard to give students individual attention, which they all need at some point. For that you need a teacher and an aide in every classroom. Administrators are underpaid too, and don't think that doesn't make a difference. Supplies and equipment are scarce.

Posted by: NorrisLurker | August 10, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

It's no big secret what teachers want.

They want decent buildings and small classes. They want the support of the administration, in providing supplies, reducing paperwork, arranging field trips, introducing innovations into the curriculum, and explaining to parents what is going on when parents have concerns.

IOW, teachers want what any other professional wants- the support of an institution, whether it be a professional association like the AMA, or a corporate entity, a decent workplace, and support in doing the best job possible.

Substitute an outlandish salary for professional working conditions, and you'll attract the kind of people who make big money as cops, oil riggers, or thimble riggers on Wall Street. Fortunately, we can't afford to pay the wages that attract the 1-2% of us who well earn the title of "overtime hogs".

In the interests of appearing clever, even young "liberals" search for a something-for-nothing solution that will raise test scores (a dismal enough measure) without reducing class sizes, providing good buildings and support, and ensuring students are nourished and have safe home environments.

Matt Yglesias has been outspoken in his desire to see the "teachers unions" broken and powerless to resist plans to hire a few super-teachers and augment them with poorly trained 'aides'.

Matt should look at the Hearst report, in today's online Seattle P-I, about how healthcare errors result in the death of 100,000 Americans a year- because the healthcare industry has implemented Matt's plans for improvement. You have your doctors, your clinical nurse specialists, and, welling up from the bottom, 2-year "RNs", 1-year "LPNs", and, overwhelmingly, aides who have completed 3-6 weeks of 'training'.

The result, naturally, is disaster. An increasingly porcine populace is processed like sausage through an industry that produces reams of bogus paperwork but fewer actual assurances of a job-well-done than your local auto mechanic.

As a 4-year RN, that is to say, an RN with a BS, it has been my sad fate to watch this deterioration. No amount of money could induce me to return to that environment. By coincidence, my mother was an innovative and highly effective teacher who had the chance, in the 60s and 70s, to work with other such teachers, many of whom became acquaintances of mine. It has also been our sad fate to watch the nation's schools, in general, ignore the lessons so plainly visible in the management and teaching in districts that support teachers.

None of the teachers I knew, who actually did produce superior results, and kept that district on a firm course of whole-hearted support for the schools, none of those teachers wanted super salaries. They wanted to teach in optimal conditions and got top-ranked results when they were supported in doing so.

Posted by: serialcatowner | August 10, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

What bluelantern23 said.

Also as someone else said, this is more a matter of conditions rather than pay. If teachers, particularly young teachers just starting out, could face each day knowing they had a small class size and resources enough to deal with problem students, you'd see a lot more of them sticking with the profession.

If on the other hand, every day is hell -- where your class is overcrowded, some students are posing instructional or behavioral problems, the infrastructure (as in the classroom) is antiquated and looks like it's falling apart -- in that kind of environment, none of us would last more than a few months.

Posted by: leoklein | August 10, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

AHHHHHH!

Just because you go to Ivy League school does not mean you are or will be a good teacher. There is this strange idea that everyone who goes to an Ivy school is uniquely qualified for whatever job they want. The truth of the matter is that Ivy and large state universities focus a lot on the theory of education without dealing with the real world, everyday problems. Its one thing to celebrate the dissemination of knowledge, and quite another to teach a classroom full of 12 year olds, or deal with the parents who are just convinced that the reason their child is failing is because of the teacher. Another problem with the Ivies is that most professor have never taught in a non university setting, which another reason they emphasize theory and philosophy of education. Sarah Fine went into the profession of education, and wound up being a teacher and the reality didn't fit the philosophical/theoretical construct that most universities use to understand public education.

Basically, we should pay good teachers more, because they are good teachers, not because of where they went to college. But first we need to figure out what makes a good teacher.

I swear education in this country is just insane!

Posted by: Matt45 | August 10, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

serialcatowner: None of the teachers I knew, who actually did produce superior results, and kept that district on a firm course of whole-hearted support for the schools, none of those teachers wanted super salaries. They wanted to teach in optimal conditions and got top-ranked results when they were supported in doing so.

Of course teachers want good conditions for teaching. That's part of the issue here.

But salaries are an issue too. Look at the subject of the above observation: "None of the teacher I knew..." How many teachers did we not even get to know because the salary was too low to get them to even consider the job?

We can't just look at the preferences of those who are already teachers. We have to consider those who won't bother becoming teachers for whatever reasons. And, as a former teacher myself, it's hard for me to believe that higher pay would not result in more competition for jobs.

Those who believe in free job markets say that if you're not happy with who your employees are, you need to either raise salaries, improve working conditions, or both. I don't think it's an either/or situation here.

Posted by: dasimon | August 10, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Elite private schools do not offer high salaries, and yet they attract many well educated teachers. Part of it is prestige, but part of it is also small classes, good facilities, and respectable treatment.

Teaching works as a high respect job when a teacher is from the local community. Princeton does not train people to have jobs with local scope. In the same way that Princetonians become big-time surgeons instead of family physicians and corporate lawyers rather than small-town probate lawyers, you're not going to see them become public school teachers. So it strikes me that what you want if you want the "best" teachers is to identify the local achievers who want to remain in their community (the ones who would become otherwise the local lawyers or family practice physicians) and train them to become teachers. Taking a student from Princeton who grew up in wealthy Boston suburbs and convincing him to become a public school teacher in East St. Louis isn't going to work, even if you pay them $85,000. And even if they could, what would be the point? They have little idea or experience with the particular issues involved in educating East St. Louis student.

Posted by: constans | August 10, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

So why is teacher burnout not such a big deal in other developed countries?

I think the best answer lies in early childhood development rather than salaries. Many American kids don't receive adequate supervision and stimulation at a young age; Americans work longer hours than people anywhere else in the world, we have high rates of single and teenage parenthood, and we don't have a system with universal access to pre-K.

The issue is that kids then show up in the school system without behavioral habits suitable for a classroom. Teachers burn out from discipline, not from instruction, and the lack of appropriate early social development really exacerbates discipline problems in the school system. So, if you want to keep great teachers, my key piece of advice would be to make pre-K available to any American family who would like it.

Is this making too strong an assumption about the importance of pre-K? If you think so, check out this excellent article by economist Jim Heckman of U. Chicago detailing the differences in non-cognitive development between students who receive early childhood education and those who don't:

http://ftp.iza.org/dp3515.pdf

Yes, I'm also pleased that programs like TFA, the Mississippi Teacher's Corps, etc. seem to be enhancing the prestige of teaching by putting together focused recruitment efforts at top schools. Perhaps raising salaries would help. But, frankly, I think that stuff is secondary; the real issue is the difficulty of the job, and the real cause of the difficulty is children who aren't prepared.

Posted by: davestickler | August 10, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

It is obvious that not all Ivy graduates would be good teachers. Having said that, inviting more intelligent people into the the profession would be good for all involved: schools, parents, and students. Having worked as both a teacher and a lawyer for the last 30 years, I can state that quite firmly that the teaching profession is filled with people who are not academically gifted, shall we say. I was one of the last avowed education majors at Oberlin College back in the late nineteen seventies. I took one education course my freshman year and it was the most non-academic course I ever took at Oberlin- by far. I dropped my education major.

The lack of writing, analytical skills, and critical thinking exhibited in the teaching profession I have seen over the years is sad. You cannot be a bright light to a child if you yourself are a dim bulb.

Posted by: bokun59 | August 10, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

There are some confounding effects in terms of social demography when you take into account higher salaried teachers often teach in school districts where median income is much, much higher.

That means, in the same districts where teachers are paid more, parents are paying for private tutors and SAT prep which all contribute to the bump in average test scores. This is too easily attributed to a correlation between teacher salary and teacher quality, and is more likely a byproduct of affluent families giving their kids a leg up.

Posted by: jkrantz89 | August 10, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Wow. After reading that article I'm thinking it's a good thing more Ivy league graduates don't become teachers.

Posted by: KathyF | August 10, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Along NorrisLurker's thoughts... if you raised the pay to attract better teachers, the first recipients of the higher pay would be the existing set of teachers, most of whom are not all star material, at least from my experiences going through K-12. So how do you attract a higher quality of teacher without overpaying the lessor quality of teachers that exist now? Most schools districts are seniority and tenure based, good luck getting them to change that.

Posted by: niceshoes1 | August 10, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Well as a retired teacher I can tell you that if your going into the profession for the money then I suggest you find something else to do. I know that I made a significant contribution to the lives of thousands of students over the years and that alone serves as a contribution to my compensation which incidentally was not an amount I had to struggle through life with. I have worked with, and trained, teachers from all sorts of educational backgrounds and found that for the good ones it was more of a calling than a profession chosen because people were looking for social status. Ivy league has little to do with it. If your worried about what other people think about the profession of teaching then perhaps it's not the right one for you anyway. While we do need to improve the pool of talent of persons entering the profession I suggest that looking to Ivy League schools to do the job would be a misplaced priority!

Posted by: marnold4 | August 10, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Right on Matt45. Seriously, what says being an Ivy League student correlates with *any* skills or capacities besides cultural capital? "Intelligence," really? And since when are law firms and investment banks sites of "excellence"??

Moreover, being a teacher is a super respectable profession in all sorts of communities. You just have to be willing to be a part of your community to actually experience the status it gives you. My totally uninformed sense is that these ivy league grads go out to wherever as tfa teachers, and all their social networks are back east, and they're not really interested in being part of the communities they're teaching in. But for gods sake, who in their right mind wants the sort of social capital that big law firm lawyers have? This whole discussion is bizarre.

Posted by: tylerbickford | August 10, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Among people who went to really prestigious schools, or who were really high achievers at near-elite schools, the "respectability" issue is a huge deal. You can go into TFA for a couple of years, or do something else that is attention-getting an definitionally not representative of a typical teaching job. But if the TFA person is still in a classroom when they turn 30, their friends are going to say "wtf?" If the person with the 4.0 and big-time engineering fellowships realizes they would rather be a math teacher (my path), people ask what ever happened to him.

It is almost impossible in a profession that has over a million members in the U.S., and which has lower mid-career pay than virtually any other college-requiring job, to signify respectability in elite circles. We're not talking about respect within a small town where "teacher" is one of the best jobs available; this is respect from your college peers, most of whom don't have to run the numbers before dropping 10 grand on this summer's vacation. People within a school know who the superstar teachers are. But unless you live in a tiny community, your neighbors probably don't know. Your friends from college have no idea. They just think you ended up doing some "ordinary" job. If you come up with well-recognized levels of distinctions in the career, so that a superstar does not get lumped in as having the same job as an incompetent, it would go a long way towards making the profession more acceptable for high-achieving people. (And no, I don't think all Ivy League grads or high IQ folks would make good teachers. But a lot of the people who would be the best teachers do fall into those categories, and most never consider teaching.)
I do what I do because I place a much higher value than most people on both job security and summers off. But I also have a big-time athletic background, and getting into coaching is a way to feed the ego because you do get directly recognized when you are the best in the state. It's not nearly as important as teaching math, but it is far more likely in coaching that the best and most dedicated people will actually be recognized as such. We need to figure out ways that formally extend that type of recognition into the classroom. It probably should come with some extra pay as well. But if a title like "master teacher" or "lead teacher" or something like that really meant something, and was not available to everyone in the building for taking an extra class or six, it would not really take that much more money.

Posted by: dh67956 | August 10, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I think a lot of comments here are focusing too much on the "Ivy League" title of the post. The issue isn't about getting Ivy Leaguers into the classroom. Of course many of them would make lousy teachers. The issue is getting better teachers, whatever the source, into the classroom.

And again I raise the question: is it not possible, if not probable, that relatively low salaries are causing some highly qualified people to not even consider the teaching profession to begin with?

Research shows that those entering the teaching pool are generally not from the top halves of their graduating college classes. Yes, part of the problem is that job conditions in many schools are not good. But part of it is pay.

The market applies to the teaching profession as much as it does to anything else.

Posted by: dasimon | August 10, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we do need teachers who are highly gifted and well-versed in their subjects.

I graduated with honors from the University of Chicago (which shut down its renowned education program years ago). Not Ivy League, but I would say that I had a rigorous academic preparation. I moved to the south after college, earned my MEd - despite what you see on blogs, not all teacher education programs are total crap - and I now teach in a very high poverty rural school district. I didn't do TFA; I see teaching as my career, not a stepping stone.

People don't go into teaching for recognition. Where I went to college means nothing to my co-workers or my kids' families. I barely earn enough to cover my student loan payments. Does my excellent education make me a better high school teacher? Yes, every day.

If our society offered prestige and real compensation to teachers rather than demanding selflessness from them, more Ivy League graduates would teach. However, many would struggle to fit into the low-income communities where they are needed most. I also think that high salaries for teachers would antagonize poor communities where education is not always highly valued.

Posted by: suzannembutler | August 10, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

I really have no idea what Ivy Leaguers should be doing with themselves. Their problem is that they have classmates who are hedge fund managers and they'll spend their lives wondering if going without a billion dollars is made up by the "meaning" that their altruistic, saintly job has. They'll conclude no, and blame the world for this.

The problem of K-12 teachers is a lot different. We need somewhat better teachers, not high-prestige teachers. Paying them more might help. But being taught by the educational prestige-equivalent of a neurosurgeon might not be the best experience for a 14-year old. No one who has to clean up spilled glitter and paste or listen to teenagers talk back to them is ever going to feel as prestigous as your big-time corporate lawyer.

Posted by: jjohn2 | August 11, 2009 1:01 AM | Report abuse

Our educational system is massively dysfunctional. One indicator is that productivity hasn't changed for decades, proof that education has completely escaped the technology revolution. Raising teacher pay will fix nothing.

Once education breaks free of its conceptual, legal and contractual shackles and embraces technology (basically, the Internet) we can expect explosive productivity growth. Hordes of teacher burn-outs will exit, students will have access online to the world's best teachers whom we'll pay like rock stars, schools will turn into something completely different (no lectures) and at last our educational and skill levels will start improving again. Want to know if your school gets it? Watch how quickly they dump their hardcopy textbooks. That's the first sign of the awakening.

Posted by: lfstevens | August 11, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

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