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Published in Print: November 1, 2002, as Royal Treatment

Royal Treatment

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With a few official decrees, the self-appointed Queen of Education improves schools and wins teachers the respect they deserve.

I want to be Queen of Education. Our schools are badly broken, and they must be fixed now. Somebody must take responsibility and make decisions that can be enacted immediately—no questions asked.

What qualifies me for the imperial position? Not scientific studies, not a Ph.D. thesis replete with statistically significant figures. I do have some impressive pieces of university parchment and several years' experience teaching disenchanted teens. My most important queenly attribute, though, is a passionate desire to provide a decent education for all American children.

The Queen's First Royal Edict: No classroom in this country shall have more than 20 students. Period. The Queen has spoken. Please stop whining about the expense. Compare the figures for reducing class sizes to the figures for retaining juveniles in prisons or detention facilities. Then look at the number of illiterate incarcerated American children. It is far, far cheaper to teach them to read in school than in prison.

Teaching people to read is a vital and difficult job. Alas, that is the root of the problem: Teaching is seen as a job in the United States, when it should be considered a profession. Many Americans view teaching as glorified baby- sitting. We beg to differ.

Now, if someone out there reading this isn't a teacher, he or she can still imagine standing in an educator's shoes. (We suggest comfortable rubber soles.) Pick any subject. Then, sit down and create a plan for teaching said subject to people who know nothing about it—and who vehemently don't want to know. Figure out how to make these people listen to you and desire this knowledge.

Next, implement your plan in a location that is extremely cold or unbearably hot, without adequate ventilation and with flickering fluorescent lights overhead, in a room furnished with bun-numbing, unpadded plastic chairs. Ensure that each of the following personalities is included among the recalcitrant recipients of your wisdom: bully, drug dealer, drug addict, drunkard, sexually abused person, starving person, and at least one kid who simply cannot sit still. And make sure that you have more students than you have seats or books.

Even if you have performed this teaching experiment only in your expanding mind, you will surely support the Queen's Second Royal Edict: Every elected representative in this country, from members of the tiniest town council to the U.S. Congress, must spend two weeks in a public school classroom, teaching from the curricula and materials available, and living on a teacher's salary for those two weeks. No limos, no catered meals, no two-hour, three-martini lunches.

Marvelous things will happen. First, our lawmakers will fall in love with our children, just as we teachers do, and they will see that most American kids are not apathetic or amoral. They are good little people, desperately in need of good big leaders.

Second, politicians will realize that teaching well is darned difficult, time-consuming, emotionally draining work, and thus, it is insulting and unethical to pay teachers the paltry sums they generally receive. If our representatives do this, legislation will be introduced to double teachers' salaries, and never again will teachers have to beg for books and paper. Not bad for the Queen's first day of work.

So we are ready for the Third Royal Edict: Stop the teacher-testing frenzy. Accountability is a good idea. But testing teachers after they have been licensed, which is the case in some states, is exceedingly illogical. Would anybody suggest hiring surgeons, dentists, or air traffic controllers, and then creating elaborate exams to test their skills? Of course not. We know that if these professionals fail to do their jobs, people will be badly injured or killed, so we test them before they start their training and again before they are licensed to begin work. Sure, students won't die if teachers don't do their jobs, but illiteracy can cause extreme pain and suffering for our students, not to mention tremendous problems for our country. Let us treat teachers like these other professionals: Test them before they start their training, test them after they finish it, then license them, trust them—and let them teach.

Most U.S. teachers who teach poorly don't do so because they lack intelligence or desire; often, they simply lack the proper training. If we want to hold someone accountable for teachers' effectiveness, we should look to our teacher training institutions. They should be held responsible for the preparedness of the candidates they train and license.

And it should be as difficult to enter a college of education as it is to get into a prestigious medical school, law school, or M.B.A. program. Why? Because educating our children is as important as performing brain surgery, providing legal remedy, or running a profitable business.

So the Queen shall establish rigorous entrance requirements: comprehensive academic exams to confirm that teachers know their subjects, and psychological exams to ensure that our teachers are not potential child molesters and are emotionally equipped for the job. Every time the Queen talks with a dean of an education college, we ask: "Are your teacher candidates tested for psychological fitness? Do you know why your education students want to be teachers? Do you ask whether your candidates even like children?" The answer to all of these questions, sadly, is invariably no.

Americans have a ludicrously democratic approach to training teachers: Pretty much anybody who wants to be a teacher can enter a teacher training program. We assume that beingeducated automatically enables a person to teach effectively. And we assume that teachers want to teach.

The Queen conducted an unofficial survey a few years ago, however, and the responses were shocking: I want my summers off. I want to work the same hours as my spouse. I want the same vacation days as my children. I earned the degree, now I have to teach until I can find another job.

Some people find these reasons acceptable. Her Majesty wonders, Would these reasonable people let a surgeon apply a scalpel to their skulls if he said, "I became a brain surgeon so I could have Fridays off to golf"? We think not.

The Queen shall also insist that, once accepted, teacher candidates receive an excellent education in theoretical and practical courses, including child and adolescent psychology, leadership, classroom management, and conflict resolution—all taught by people who have hands-on experience in public school classrooms. We shall require a B average for coursework and an intensive yearlong internship closely supervised by experienced professionals, followed by a rigorous exit exam evaluated by a committee of objective experts.

(If a teacher candidate cannot pass the exit exam, then no license—even if there is a shortage of teachers. We don't grant medical licenses simply because we need doctors and dentists.)

Well-trained teachers know how to motivate, lead, and educate. And when we put them in classrooms, kids' attitudes and behavior will improve. Achievement will soar— and the demand for standardized tests, tests, tests, tests will disappear. The Queen finds constant testing quite tiresome.

We should like to suggest, at this point, a fitting new title for a qualified, rigorously tested, dedicated, and effective teacher: Public School Professor. And may we also suggest an appropriate new starting salary equal to that of other licensed professionals with five years of challenging academic training: entry-level pay of at least $40,000 nationwide.

We are pleased. We have elevated teaching to a well-paid profession, adequately trained our teachers, reduced class sizes to facilitate learning, and ensured that our teacher candidates really want to teach. How very excellent.

These steps will eliminate some huge problems, such as forcing teachers to spend inordinate amounts of time "teaching to the tests" instead of teaching students to think. We won't have a teacher shortage because young people will want to become professional educators: They will want to enjoy the job satisfaction, prestige, and compensation that teachers receive.

Oh, the realists, the perennially practical among us, are raising their hands. Yes, it will be difficult to find a university willing to turn away potential teachers who don't meet the new, improved entrance requirements. Turning away students means turning away money, and universities need money.

But certainly, in this great nation of big business, we could find one corporation whose intelligent and ethical CEO believes in education and appreciates good PR. This intelligent corporation can fund the academic program and salaries for our initial group of crackerjack teachers. When that first class of bright, passionate, supremely qualified public school professors hits the streets, students will respond, and the rest will be history.

The Queen is ready. God save our schools.

Vol. 14, Issue 3, Pages 38-40

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