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A Checklist for Imagining The Teacher Corps of Your Dreams

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The median income of physicians in the United States is $139,000, according to a recent announcement from the American Medical Association. Suppose the median income of American teachers was raised to half that. Suppose at the same time we insisted on the following:

  • 1. Teachers in public schools were recruited only from the top 25 percent of the higher-education academic talent pool.
  • 2. Teachers were recruited only from the top 25 percent of the open-minded segment of the Rokeach "open-minded/dogmatic'' scale.
  • 3. Teachers were recruited only from the top 25 percent of those demonstrating nurturing qualities and, in Carl Rogers's phrase, positive regard for the young.
  • 4. Teachers were recruited only from the top 25 percent of those who demonstrated they could apply the scientific method to their professional decisions. (When I do surveys on how teachers apply the scientific method to their professional decisionmaking, I find that teachers cannot adequately delineate what the scientific method is, and are even less likely to make professional decisions in the classroom based on some version of the scientific method.)
  • 5. Teachers were recruited only from the top 25 percent of those who demonstrated the desire and the ability to educate themselves and to educate others. (One of the most surprising aspects when I first began to teach teacher-candidates, lo these many moons ago, was how many people who claimed they wanted to be teachers were just not interested in educating themselves or others. Certainly, if one looked at their leisure-time interests, almost none would be considered educational in any significant sense of that term, to say nothing of their frequent lack of interest in the teacher-education curriculum itself. Furthermore, any basic, cultural-literacy tests in politics, science, literature, history, etc., they took graphically demonstrated how little general knowledge they possessed.)
  • 6. Teachers were recruited only from the top 25 percent of those possessing good communication skills. I quote verbatim from a student's journal: "I was so nervous doing my 10-minute mini-lesson before the class yesterday. I had my whole speech and lecture written out and I practiced it perfectly, but when I stood up I didn't have a clue of what to say. Thank goodness I was able to imprivize [sic] something. I wish this class didn't make us try to teach our fellow students, and especially try to get them to engage in discussion. I hope I'll be able to do better when I have to teach little kids.''

The attitude of this student is extremely common. There are very few teacher candidates who look forward to and really feel comfortable delivering some form of structured lesson before a group, especially of their peers; and yet, that is certainly a major aspect of teaching. When questioned about this reluctance, their common response is that they are much more comfortable speaking in front of children. But my observations of the internship performance in actual grade-school classrooms of these same candidates indicate that this claim is largely bogus. By and large, poor communication skills in front of their peers generally indicate poor future performance in the public school classroom. Naturally, some improvement does take place after years of experience, but many classes will be shortchanged before their performance improves significantly.

But even if these teacher candidates are accurate in their self-assessment that they have good communications skills before children but not before peers, they cannot be considered a complete teacher if they can't contribute to professional meetings and make their views effectively known to their peers on various occasions.

  • 7. Teachers were recruited only from the top 25 percent of those who possessed high frustration tolerance.
  • 8. Teachers were recruited only from the top 25 percent of the creativity scales.
  • 9. Teachers were recruited only from those least likely to display the NOTRP syndrome (Not Open to Rational Persuasion).
  • 10. Teachers were recruited only from those most likely to recognize and act on the political aspects necessary for successful schooling in America. (We would also like all teachers to have a healthy sense of humor, which many of our current candidates lack, but then perfection is not of this world.)

At the risk of sounding wildly utopian, let me assert that we could transform the face of education and the nature of American society, within a generation, if we followed such a program. The colleges of education have not made significant efforts to recruit this kind of teacher, and for that they deserve severe condemnation and a burden of guilt that should last well into the next century.

With such a teacher corps, most of the in-school problems of the last 50 years would rapidly be subject to rational reforms. Perhaps more important, with a couple of million such teachers, there would exist a powerful political lobby to alleviate many of the out-of-school problems that impinge on the in-school conditions.

(It just shows to go you what kind of fantasies one can generate after a couple of martinis for a nightcap.)

Robert Primack is an associate professor of education at the University of Florida at Gainesville.

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