Over the past couple of weeks (between posts on soccer) I have discussed the efforts of Michelle Rhee to restructure the pay scale for teachers in Washington DC schools. I thought the move to be very smart politics.
Yesterday, I read the latest Paul Tough article on schools in New Orleans and I have been doing various research on Teach for America and other alternative teacher employment routes. One of the most important cross overs of the Tough article and the TFA type organziations is the reliance on younger people to see what can be done to change education. With the generational divide on the DC teacher compensation proposal, I started to wonder about what is really coming in education at least as it relates to teachers.
Of course, probably every teacher comes into their profession with the hope of making a difference in some child's life. Some may delude themselves into thinking they can make a difference in every child's life, but most I think have lesser ambtions, just to make an impact. However, as their careers progress, they become, as all professionals do, a little more jaded about their profession and unfortunately, a little entrenched in their thinking. After all, it takes a lot of work and self-discipline to constantly upgrade, change, add or subtract from one's thinking.
But here is what I think is different about the teachers coming into education now, be it through the traditional methods or through TFA type organizations, is that these teachers not only have the hope of changing lives, but the actual expectation to do so. What TFA andother organizations do, that school systems in teh past and even now don't, is provide a means of networking, of sharing struggles, ideas, issues and opportunities for improvement. I am not saying that such things are, by themselves, going to change education, but these young people are used to being connected, used to rapid communication and sharing, and used to the brain storm atmosphere that grows out of such instant connections. Consequently, they fully believe, indeed know, that they can effect change.
But here is the fundamental difference between new teachers of 40 years ago and new teachers of today--today's new teachers understand the long view. Contrary to the notion that young people (22-24 is the average age of a new teacher) are self-centered, narcissistic jerks, these young people in TFA and coming into teaching know that the ills of education will not, cannot be corrected in a short period of time. What is needed is a long term effort that gives practitioners an opportunity to start making that long term impact. TFA's goal is to close the achievement gap (although what TFA will do if they ever succeed is a good question), but they recognize that it will take more than simply dedicated teachers, but will take people at the highest levels to make it happen, thus their focus on moving Alumni into higher levels of policy making.