Friday, August 17, 2007

The Bottom Third

"Many of us carry memories of an influential teacher who may scarcely know we existed, yet who said something at just the right time in our lives to snap a whole world into focus." Laurent A. Daloz (20th century), U.S. educator

Tim Stahmer's post today on AssortedStuff made me angry. Not at him, but at the "expert" he quotes (British educational advisor Sir Michael Barber) who states that the U. S. "selects its teachers from the bottom third of graduates. This is one of the big challenges for the U.S. education system: What are you going to do over the next 15 to 20 years to recruit ever better people into teaching?”

Tough Choices or Tough Times, the report of the New Commission of the Skills of the American Workforce, says that before we can reform our educational system, "we must fact a few facts. the first is that we recruit a disproportionate share of our teachers from among the less able of the high school students who go to college." (Executive Summary p. XIX)

I've been on committees to hire new teachers and, in our area at least, competition is fierce for the openings.
Our new hires are definitely NOT from the "bottom third of graduates", nor are our veteran staff members. Where does this statistic come from?

I'm a dedicated professional who spends a lot of my "free" time - including summers - reading, thinking and planning for the school year. I resent being dismissed as unmotivated, unintelligent, uncaring.

Every day I read posts from American teachers like Konrad Glogowski, Doug Noon, Patrick Higgins, Christian Long, teacher/librarians Carolyn Foote and Joyce Valenza, and dozens of others. These particular bloggers may be more articulate than most, but I don't believe that the intelligence and dedication they display is atypical.

"For good teaching rests neither in accumulating a shelfful of knowledge nor in developing a repertoire of skills. In the end, good teaching lies in a willingness to attend and care for what happens in our students, ourselves, and the space between us. Good teaching is a certain kind of stance, I think. It is a stance of receptivity, of attunement, of listening." -Laurent A. Daloz

"Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition." -Jacques Barzun, Dean of Graduate School, Columbia University


Doug Noon said...

Diane, I appreciate your supportive comment. I did not come from the "bottom third" of any school ranking. But I did resist choosing a career where the primary motivation for working was to make money. Public school teachers don't earn enough to attract people with career options who aren't also idealists. Maybe that's a good thing.

Carolyn Foote said...



Well said.

diane said...

Doug and Carolyn,

In New York State, requirements for becoming certified are stringent and include submitting a video and completing Master's degree requirements within a specified time period. As a teacher/librarian, I had to have my MLS in addition to teaching certification.

Very few professions demand so much for such modest pay. You are right: dedication, in addition to intelligence, is the key to an effective teaching career.