As a recent graduate of teacher’s college it was with some interest that I purchased the December 15th, 2008 issue featuring the Malcolm Gladwell article on “The Trouble with Teachers.” I have to say, reading his article made me wonder if he was actually speaking about the profession I am involved in or about something else entirely.
To begin with, the article spends about half its verbiage on an unnecessarily detailed description of the college football selection processes. He concludes that “educational reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers,” but that this impulse is incorrect and that “we shouldn’t be raising standards” for selecting teachers, but “lowering them.” Gladwell writes that “teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree.” Further, he supports the idea that good teachers can be identified through student performance on standaradized tests. This analysis of the teaching profession rests on the ignorance of the major challenges facing teachers today in North America. In the testing-mad American school system of today, teachers find themselves forced to “teach to the test,” rather than come up with their own innovative, creative materials. As argued in Alfie Kohn’s seminal book “The Case Against Standardized Testing” the No Child Left Behind Act is really a “no child left untested” law. Having been in classrooms and witnessed children taking standardized tests at ages six and seven years old, I agree with Kohn’s conclusion that these test do little to make learning enjoyable or appealing to children, and much to line the pockets of the testing companies.
Gladwell also ignores the reasons why BEd programs exist in the first place. Not everything that a teacher must learn can be learned on the job. Teachers need to be properly prepared to face a classroom, even if only to be informed on the basics of safety and child psychology. It is true that BEd programs are designed to shrink the pool of people who qualify to be teachers, but there are good reasons for this. If any person with a BA could be a teacher, the job market for teachers would be even worse than it is now.
The rate of unemployment for qualified teachers is ridiculously high. In urban areas throughout North America there are teacher surpluses. Teachers take supply positions or go without work at all, despite high levels of education. According to the College of Teachers of my home province of Ontario “Only one out of six (17 per cent) of the 2006 teacher education graduates who are English-language Primary-Junior teachers outside the Greater Toronto Area found regular jobs by the end of the 2006-07 school year, and only about one-third (35 per cent) of the similar group of 2005 graduates had found regular jobs a full two years into their careers.” Many cities in the US have similar teacher surplus problems. Education programs at universities continue to grow and accept students because they make money off the tuition even if there are no jobs for the student teachers once they graduate. New teachers are often forced to seek employment abroad.
A corporate model is the wrong one to apply when looking for teachers because how a teacher affects a child’s self esteem or improves his or her ability to function in a practical way in the world is not immediately visible. This socializing aspect of education is very important. Rather than making children into good little test-taking robots we should concern ourselves with creating creative, empathic global citizens.
Taking a BEd is a leap of faith with no secure promise of instant employment at the other end. In many ways teaching is a calling and as a teacher one must be willing to move to where the students in order to get employment. The corporate financer model is all wrong when applied to teachers. Gladwell should get on the ground and see what life and job prospects are really like for teachers and students—two groups he tellingly does not interview in the article.