Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Best and the Brightest?

Strategic Management of Human Resources, an education task force whose goal is to improve student achievement, recently issued a report containing 20 recommendations that task force members believe will help state and local education agencies achieve that goal.

The report, like most such reports, garnered support -- and criticism.

One school superintendent took issue with what he saw as the report's primary message -- the need to recruit "the best and the brightest" to be teachers. “In our profession, not everyone can teach regardless of how smart they may be,” said Delmar, Delaware, school superintendent David C. Ring Jr. “We need people who can relate to children.”

His remarks elicited this response from task-force chair Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota: “I don’t think we are in any danger at the moment of overemphasizing smart people going into teaching.”

That view of teachers as less than the best and the brightest isn't new. In 1903, George Bernard Shaw wrote in Man and Superman's "Maxims for Revolutionists," "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."

Nor is it uncommon. The parent of a student I wanted to retain once said to me, "You're a first grade teacher. I'm a CEO, with three times your education, making ten times your salary. Why should I listen to you?"

Nor is it without precedent. Although the academic credentials of beginning teachers has increased dramatically in the last decade, SAT scores of prospective teachers have been consistently lower than the scores of many other professional groups.

But is it true? Do "the best and the brightest," in large numbers, refuse to consider a teaching career. Is teaching a fall-back profession for those who can't --or are afraid they can't -- make it in any other profession?

If it isn't true, how do we change the perception? And if it is, how do we change the profession?

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