EducationNews.org; Houston, Texas
SchoolInfoSystem; Madison, Wisconsin
The Concord Review
31 March 2011
Several decades ago, the Canadian Army was having a problem with its male recruits. Far too many of them were going Absent WithOut Leave, for various reasons, to various places, for varying amounts of time.
The Army tried giving them punishment laps, kitchen duty, latrine duty, even time in the stockade, but nothing worked—they were still going AWOL.
Finally, someone thought of trying something completely new. They sent the recruit home to his mother, with a note saying he was too immature for Army duty, and would she keep him at home for another year, and then perhaps he could try again. The AWOL problem disappeared.
Something like 50% of new teachers leave the profession within five years, and they don’t, for the most part, go home to mother, but they do leave a hole and a problem in filling their shoes back in the schools.
My guess is that no one conducts serious exit interviews with these teachers, who are perfectly free to leave the profession, for personal reasons, to start a different career, or whatever. But I would argue that a significant portion of them, it would be found if there were serious exit interviews conducted, have actually been pushed out.
People go back and forth arguing whether teaching is a profession or a civil service job like firefighters and police, paid out of municipal taxes.
In general, professionals don’t have clients delivered to them, as students are delivered to teachers, and if a client leaves a lawyer for another lawyer the first lawyer does not call his union representative.
For me, one test of whether a teacher is a professional or not is whether she/he can refuse service to someone. Lawyers who are about to try a case in court before a jury can interview potential jurors and they have, I think, two peremptory challenges, which allow them to say: “This potential juror and that potential juror are excused.” They can exercise this privilege if there are a couple of people they think would prejudice their case or make it harder to win. They don’t have to give any reasons.
A “professional” teacher, on the other hand, is not allowed to look over a class, and say, “This one and that one, I can’t teach.” Even if what it means is if those students stay in their class they may have to give 60% of their time to controlling them, and have only 40% of their time for the other 27 students. And it is worse than that, because the effort to control disruptive students does not come at one time in the class, but is needed to interrupt the rest of the class any number of times.
Teachers are trained and expected not to think about stuff like that. They are taught and expected to believe that it is their job to accept all comers and exercise their “classroom management skills” without being relieved of the burden of any disruptive student, no matter how much damage that student may do to the education of the other students in the class.
So teachers, for the most part, take all students, and their teaching suffers as a result. They are frustrated in their efforts to offer the best that they have to the majority of their students. And, by the way, it is no secret to the students that the school administration doesn’t have enough respect for the teacher’s professional work to remove such a student. And we wonder why people don’t want to be teachers and don’t want their children to be teachers.
Theodore Roosevelt had a guest in the oval office one day, when his daughter Alice came charging through the room screaming. The guest asked the President if he couldn’t control her. TR responded that he could control Alice, or he could be President of the United States, but not both. He was a professional and was treated as such.
I blame teachers for not having the courage to say that if I have to keep this student or that student in my class, the education I am able to offer to the other students will be damaged by 60%. If they did say that, of course they would be judged incompetent in classroom management and probably encouraged to leave the profession.
Many too many do leave the profession, and I believe that many of them were literally pushed out through being prevented from doing their best by the unchecked and disregarded misbehavior of some students. I know that every Nobel Prize winner was once a high school student, but so was every rapist and murderer, and students who cannot conduct themselves as they should must not be allowed to ruin the careers of our teachers. Perhaps such students should be sent home to their mothers, but they don’t belong in classrooms where important professional academic work is going on.