By Brigid McGuire
“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” These now-popular words, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 drama “Man and Superman,” seem to have ingrained themselves in the minds of the general American population. Young teachers are often asked the question, “Why are you just a teacher?” or “What are you going to do after teaching?”
There is a prominent notion that teaching is an easy job to fall back on if a person has not yet decided on a career path to follow or is in a transitional period in between careers. This attitude toward the profession of teaching needs to change, not only for the benefit of teachers and students, but also for the benefit of greater society.
It is safe to say that the American public values education, and that can be seen in the sweeping reforms and the push for higher standards. But ironically, the value of teaching as a profession is not held in high regard. Teaching is a profession that should be taken seriously and teachers should be respected as professionals if we have any hopes of increasing the quality of American education.
Programs like Teach for America — while they have the best intentions — seem to only exacerbate this profound lack of respect for the profession of teaching. Teach for America recruits recently graduated young adults to work in low-income, inner-city schools in exchange for the payment of loans and a decent teacher salary. The expectation is that these teachers will hold short-term positions as a means to eliminate their own debt.
These teachers enter into what is perhaps one of the most difficult teaching environments with minimal training and support. Often they work for only a few years with the intentions of pursuing a different career entirely. This creates a learning environment where teachers are frequently turned over and there is an expectation of minimal commitment.
Furthermore, with the growing popularity of charter schools, in which usually only a bachelor’s degree is needed to teach, people are entering the profession without the pedagogical knowledge to best meet the needs of students and without the intentions of being a long-term and dedicated teacher. It is false to assume that anyone can walk into a classroom after a few weeks of training and be successful in the profession of teaching.
If, as a society, we truly value education, then we must begin with valuing our dedicated teachers. Teachers must know that they are valued, and also must desire to grow in their profession just as any other serious professional would. We need to adopt the attitude that those who can, teach.