Corporate America wants inexperienced teachers in the classroom

by Bob Simpson

It’s true! The big money people want to put the rookie squad into our classrooms. Corporate funded attacks on public education and teachers’ unions have portrayed higher paid, more experienced teachers as the villains of the current financial crisis. It’s good-bye, Mr. Chips  and sayonara, Ms. Frizzle.

In 1987-88 the typical primary or secondary teacher had 15 years of experience. But  by 2007-2008, the typical teacher had 1-2 years of experience. Not only that, but 50% of teachers leave the profession within 5 years. Veteran educator Larry Cuban has estimated how long it takes to actually learn the job.

“Only by the end of the fourth or fifth year of teaching do most newcomers become competent and confident in figuring out lessons, knowing the ins-and-outs of classroom management, and taking risks in departing from the routines of daily teaching.”

Brad Juppe of the US Department of Education is blunt:

“The crisis is upon us. The mode of experience being one to two years should be the most alarming thing we have come upon.”

Teacher experience graphic

When I was teaching back in the 20th century, there was a lot of talk about creating master teachers and mentoring programs

A master teacher is an experienced teacher who  acts as a mentor for new teachers. A program called National Board Certification was started for teachers who wanted to qualify as true master teachers. Mentoring is a win-win-win idea.

It is a good idea for the experienced teachers who do the mentoring because they can get a jolt of new ideas and fresh perspectives from their younger mentees. It is good for the younger teachers who will not have to flounder alone in their critical early years. It is good for the students because they are exposed to both the exuberance of youth as well as the wisdom of age.

First grade teacher Janelle Jamison of Washington state is fortunate enough to work in a district where there is a mentoring program:

“I am shocked at how much I love teaching. I am excited and being able to gain the support and experience from experienced teachers not only helps my teaching, but improves the quality of the experience.”

Imagine the advances we could make in curricula and classroom management if we as a nation integrated master teacher mentoring with more teacher collaboration across subject areas and grade levels. Tied in with smaller class sizes, more prep time and research support from university education departments, who knows where we might be tomorrow?

Teachers did get some creative mentoring programs but what else did teachers get?

We got the attacks on teachers’ pay scales, their pensions, their tenure and their unions. We got “merit pay” based on the results of unscientific standardized tests. We got pressure for larger class sizes, endless hi-stakes testing, more paperwork, less prep time and a flood of scripted curricula coming from powerful corporations. We got more privatization through charters and fewer resources for public neighborhood schools.

Veteran English teacher Stephanie Olson decided to take a job in Abu Dhabi where she thinks she will earn more money and respect. Speaking of her 10 years teaching in the USA, Olson said this:

“I’m doing more work, but I’m getting less money every year. Instead of being excited about a job and looking forward to your job, you begin to fear your job. It becomes stressful, tiring and takes a toll not only on your health, but on your family.”

Teachers with years of valuable experience and advanced degrees were declared the enemy because they cost too much. Woe betide veteran teachers who seek work in another district. Instead of being seen as respected educators, they are now considered tax burdens. Their professional credentials are considered next to worthless by America’s top educator:

“Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have masters’ degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers — with the possible exception of teachers who earn masters in math and science.”— Arne Duncan

Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, much beloved by the corporate world, believes that 5 weeks of training is enough to put a teacher in a classroom. She doesn’t care that most of her recruits only stick around for a very short time. Teach for America grads have a turnover rate that is truly phenomenal:

“More than 50 percent of Teach for America teachers leave after two years and more than 80 percent leave after three years.”–Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez, Ph.D.

Why has teacher turnover reached  such ridiculous levels? 

Why do half of teachers with education degrees leave before 5 years is up? Why do educational “reform” leaders like Duncan and Kopp trash teacher training and experience? Don’t they see that new teachers have dreams and aspirations? Don’t they understand that people go into education so they can make a difference? New teachers yearn for the day when they can match and even surpass the accomplishments of their favorite teachers from grade school and high school; the teachers who were their original inspiration. That takes time, a lot of time.

Oh, but wait. Does one need beautiful dreams and high aspirations to follow a strict corporate scripted curriculum that drains the joy, imagination and creativity out of the classroom?  What does it mean for teachers and students to walk into an overcrowded school devoid of art, music, science labs or even a playground? What does a hi-stakes test really evaluate using such a dull, gray-tinted so-called learning experience?

Is it any wonder that the teacher dropout rate has risen in recent years?

Of course the children of wealthy and middle class professional parents do not contend with the most extreme and nightmarish of these conditions and neither do the teachers in those schools. But even there pressure on teachers has taken a toll. But the highest teacher dropout rate is where there is the highest student dropout rate, in working class communities, especially those communities where people of color in the majority.

Overcrowded classrrom
Overcrowded classroom in California

Teacher turnover harms the the cohesion of a school and only adds to the general instability of already stressed working class communities. Eliminating seniority, tenure and recall rights is ostensibly about removing “bad teachers”, but its real purpose is to create a cheaper, more pliable and less experienced workforce, which is exactly the opposite of what is best for educating students. Neighborhood schools traditionally served as community anchors, but that role is difficult to maintain with inadequate resources and a constantly changing teaching staff.

The charter schools so favored by Corporate America have an even worse turnover rate and have the greatest number of inexperienced or relatively untrained teachers. Charter school teachers cite poor working conditions and lack of support by administrators as the main reasons for moving on.

We can also see the same process unfold in colleges and universities with the use of poorly paid adjuncts and grad students, even as tuition and student debt soars to stratospheric levels.

Will teaching become another heavily regimented temp job?

The trend toward poor working conditions, lower pay and high turnover rates means that teaching could become another alienating temp job, a disturbing trend that is seen all across the working class.  Ironically, poverty is the worst enemy of educational achievement and the corporate agenda of unionbusting, low wages and high unemployment does more to harm education than the small number of truly bad teachers.

This is a Race to the Bottom which degrades the work process of teaching and the whole concept of education itself. The much maligned teachers unions have been battling this degradation in conjunction with their allies among parent, community and labor organizations. Both the National Education Association(NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers(AFT), the two largest teachers unions, have presented sound recommendations about improving education. A good example from the Chicago Teachers Union (AFT Local 1) may be downloaded here. These types of recommendations written by actual teachers’ organizations have been generally ignored by the corporate owned mass media.

 CTU march in Chicago
Thousands of Chicago AFT members march for quality education in May of 2012
When up against the power of corporate money that has flooded our political process, teachers’ unions have had mixed resultsat best. It doesn’t help that the attack on teachers has been bi-partisan. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is a Republican. His neighbor to the south, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is a Democrat.Fortunately teacher union activists continue to work hard at building the broad alliances that can counter the big money of the wealthy minority. After all, they are some of our best teachers and this gives them a certain advantage when directly engaging the general public.Publicly funded quality education has long been part of our continuing battle for democratization in this country. Now that the dream of “liberty and justice for all” is receding for millions of Americans, it is a battle we cannot afford to lose.Bob “Bobbosphere” Simpson is a retired teacher with 25 years experience in public secondary schools, parochial secondary schools, and community colleges. Sources Consulted

How Long Does It Take To Become a “Good” Teacher? by Larry Cuban

The Changing Face of the Teaching Force by Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill

The Schools Chicago’s Children Deserve

USA’s top teachers union losing members by Greg Toppo

Classroom ‘crisis’: Many teachers have little or no experience by Sevil Omer

Deepening the Debate over Teach For America by Anthony Cody

The plight of great teachers by Nancy Flanagan

Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force by Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill

How teacher turnover harms student achievement  by Matthew Ronfeldt, Susanna Loeb, James Wyckoff

Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools by David A. Stuit, Thomas M. Smith

Bob Simpson  spent many years as a history teacher on the South Side of Chicago in a working class neighborhood. He is now a social media writer based out of Oak Park Illinois. He works for WebTraxStudio which does work for unions, non-profit groups, social advocacy organizations and educational institutions.  He is also 1/2 of the Carol Simpson labor cartoon team. This post first appeared on his diary at Daily Kos, go there and recommend it.

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