Teaching and Prestige

One big problem with trying to turn primary and secondary teaching into a “prestige” profession is that there are just so damn many teachers — over 3.2 million in public schools plus about 470,000 additional ones in private schools. That’s a lot of people — several percent worth of the country’s total labor force.

Teaching is already a somewhat prestigious profession that only educated people can do, and given the sheer numbers of people involved, it’s unlikely to be feasible to transform it into something radically more prestigious or “elite” than it currently is. But good teachers matter! So what’s to be done? Well, we should definitely work on changing elements of our current system that tend to leave the kids who are most in need without access to the best teachers available. And we also need to reform the certification process so that the qualifications needed to become a teacher are more in line with evidence about what’s actually needed to teach effectively.

But we also need systems and curricula that can work when implemented by what amounts to a mass labor force of teachers. It’s misleading to look at smallish programs like Teach for America and then start dreaming of what things might be like if that experience could be universalized — it just can’t be.

Photo by Flickr user iboy daniel used under a Creative Commons license