Monday, May 2, 2011

The "Cool Factor"

With all the blame ricocheting around the discussion of education reform, it is easy to loose track of the most important element of this collective conversation, the children. The real questions we should be asking aren't about WHO is at fault.   It is not the fault of one party, one group or one policy. We are ALL responsible for the well being of our children. None of us have done the job we needed to do, not teachers, not parents, not teachers unions, not education reforms, not administrators and not policy makers. If we had, we wouldn't be in this position.
The fear that many education reformers have today is that the constant over use of assessments and merit pay will result in a culture of meritocracy amongst teachers. In other words, we will create a community of teachers who are only striving to get by and keep their jobs.
The problem is, their worst fear has already arrived.  We already have a culture of meritocracy in education. This is why the "best and brightest" aren't flocking to teaching schools. This is why the fight for merit pay is on and why many politicians are embracing arguments in favor of basing compensation on testing and other evaluations. If there was a culture of excellence, would merit pay be relevant?
Fear, however, is not the best motivator.  Holding teachers in a fearful relationship with administrators and politicians doesn't necessarily build the sort of culture of excellence we are looking to attain in education.So what will? We need to change the way we do business in schools, in the classroom and in our relationships with students. We must begin to foster a respect for teaching. We must hold teaching in a place in our general culture that properly represents its importance.  I was speaking with a LA special ed teacher over the weekend and she mentioned the lack of a "cool factor" in teaching these days. I happen to agree with her.
There is not a culture of recognition for the achievements that are being made amongst great teachers or students. We don't brag about teachers the way we brag about athletes, doctors, lawyers, movie stars or politicians. Why would young people want to become a teacher?  It isn't going to be for the pay or the prestige. We haven't conjured enough respect or even a bit of "cool factor" for education.
Teaching is not just another job where you punch in the time card in the morning and punch out in the afternoon. This is not a job one should take just for good benefits and long vacations. If these are the sorts of people that we are attracting to education, we have to seriously ask ourselves why we are not attracting passionate teachers who want to strive for excellence in education. We are not giving teachers a place to express themselves and their passion. We need to pay educators for innovation, passion and excellence not only test scores and assessments. Now, that is the sort of merit pay I could stand fully behind.


  1. Megan, thanks for sharing. It really comes down to, in my opinion, one thing: Relationships. And when I say relationships, I mean the bonds that are built between principals and teachers; the uniting of teachers within a school; and, obviously, the connections we create with kids. Without the nurturing of relationships (especially with and between staff members) a true learning community, a school filled with synergy, is nearly impossible.

  2. Great post! I can't get over how I wrote nearly the same thing today on my blog!
    Thanks for your words of wisdom.