In his article, Creme de la Career (titled “With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King” on-line), Steve Lohr of the New York Times suggests that “the financial crisis and the economic downturn are likely to alter drastically the career paths of future years.”
This trend proved true during both the Depression and “cold war Communist challenge” when college students migrated toward fields where “jobs beckoned and pay was good.” The results — ranging from the interstate system to Hoover Dam to the foundations of our modern computing framework — continue to shape and inform the world we live. Their legacy lives on.
The basic idea is this: a period of instability triggers a change that is then followed by relative stability. In evolutionary biology, this theory is called punctuated equilibrium. Borrowing from biologists, social scientists apply this theory to explain rapid periods of change in policy, behavioral patterns, and organizations. Wikipedia states it as such:
The model states that policy generally changes only incrementally due to several restraints, namely the ‘stickiness’ of institutional cultures, vested interests, and the bounded rationality of individual decision-makers. Policy change will thus be punctuated by changes in these conditions, especially change in party control of government or changes in public opinion. Thus, policy is characterized by long periods of stability, punctuated by large, but less frequent changes due to large shifts in society or government.
Mr. Lohr goes on to report that with the diminished lure of Wall Street, indicators such as “graduate school applications this spring, enrollment in undergraduate courses, preliminary job-placement results at schools, and the anecdotal accounts of students and professors” are pointing towards the emergence of a “new pattern of occupational choice”. He goes on to say, “(p)ublic service, government, the sciences and even teaching look to be winners.”
Did I read that right? “Even teaching”?
“Even teaching” is among the winners?! Well, Shazam! Hallelujah!
Someone gas up the barbi, put some micro brews on ice, and queue up Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” on the iPod. There’s gonna be a party going on right here, a celebration, to last throughout the year(s).
I guess before I get too excited and start popping champagne to welcome more top-shelf students to our profession, we need to get serious about giving this jalopy of ours a tune-up. If young adults are going to be giving this career the equivalent of a tire kick-test, we need to make sure the wheels are in good shape, the engine hums and it is going to get good gas mileage over the course of their lives.
Basically, if we wish to capitalize on this dynamic shift in demographics and attract sharp, critical, and talented students to the field of teaching, we need to get serious about wooing seekers with a gleaming coupe of a profession. We need to Pimp Our Ride. And, we need to be already working on strategies keep them in it. Starting yesterday.
We should start with a good hard look at some of the rust built up on the frame of our beloved little clunker of a career:
- Do we really think we’ll keep ambitious, growth-minded professionals in a field that requires a 30 year veteran to do nearly the same job as a fresh-from-college graduate?
- Are students who’ve been successful at carving out their own niche going to be satisfied being required to teach from a text book, and then being judged solely on the results of a high stakes test that someone else takes?
- Will young educators with a history of leadership experiences survive and thrive in a system dominated by top down reform efforts?
- Can we really expect young adults, even altruistically minded ones, to stick with a profession that still pays many of its professionals like day laborers?
- Are we likely to capitalize on the potential of collaborative curves if we isolate these new teachers in classrooms with little or no time to work with colleagues in meaningful and innovative ways?
Yikes. Will a wax job be enough to buff these issues out? No. Perhaps our strategy should be to enlist the efforts of a new generation of teachers. We want them to feel that their potential, their ideas and ideals can have a transformative presence in the field of education.
They need to feel that their contributions will make a difference.
There are small things we can do. To start with:
Our education language needs a stimulus package. “Standards” and “accountability” can no longer be both the cornerstones and keystones of our conversations about learning. We need to hear words like engaging, curiosity, creativity, multiple intellegences, equal access, differentiation, learning environments, relevance, collaboration, and media literacy (among many others) when people talk about quality education.
There should be some effort to present the utility and versatility of becoming an educator. With the changing paradigm of globalization and international interaction, teachers have become indispensable On-Star navigators, helping to steer students (in any subject and at any level) toward information, knowledge, and skills that lead to success.
With that in mind, compare the aesthetics and persuasive content of the following sites. Which inspires you to teach? Which makes you want to run away?
Additionally, We need to begin establishing more layers in the teaching profession. Current advancement is limited to becoming a principal or a professor. What if there were a middle ground between these career options?
Katherine Boles, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education, outlined in the book she co-authored with Vivian Troen,“Who’s Teaching Your Children: Why the Teaching Crisis Is Worse Than You Think and What Can Be Done About It”, ideas about how to achieve increased complexity and topography in the professional educator’s career. They suggest we construct “Millennium Schools” in which there are numerous layers to the teaching profession in order to provide opportunities for beginner and master teachers alike to develop.
Four main pillars of a Millennium School are:
- Multi-tiered career paths for teachers
- Teaching in teams instead of in isolation
- Performance-based accountability
- Ongoing professional development for all teachers and principals.
The authors write,
A Millennium School offers teachers a multilevel career path that rewards advanced training and experieince with higher levels of pay, responsibility, supervision, and team management. . . (It) calls for the establishment of six teaching positions:
- Chief instructor
- Professional teacher
- Associate teacher
- Teaching intern
- Instructional aide
As a potential career option, teaching becomes much more attractive (and interesting) when there are more layers and levels. As teachers become hungry for more responsibility, pay, or both, or just a slight change, they have possibilities.
Our 20th century Tin Lizzie of a profession needs some updating. New interior design with increased access to technology, collaborative opportunities, autonomy, and professional advancement. Aerodynamic classrooms tricked out with resources and outfitted with relevant curriculum. Advanced integrated features such as accountability measures that stimulate engaged students and inspire teachers to grow and develop.
The schools of the future begin with our efforts today, and we need to communicate the great value, purpose, and potential of teaching. We want these career seekers to give our profession the kick test and find that it is not only worthy of their attention, but well worth their investment. We only stand to gain — as a profession, as a society, and as a world.