Teaching as a short term career
This morning I ran across a New York TImes article titled At Charter School, Short Careers by Choice. The gist of the article is that some charter school tolerate or even encourage young teachers moving on to other careers after three or four years of teaching. I guess the idea is that youth and enthusiasm far outweigh expertise and experience. Call it the Teach for America model, if you like.
My first two or three years of teaching were filled with my own learning about how to teach. It took me a few years to become really good at what I was doing. I don’t think youth would have sped that process up at all (especially as I remember what I was like right out of college).
So from my own experience, the best teaching I’ve done started occurring five or so years into my teaching career. I’m not unique (watch Ira Glass explain how long it takes to become really good at something), rather the time and concerted effort it takes to become masterful at an endeavor is a well understood fact of life. How do you sustain the hard work during the dismal early days when you know you are pretty much stinking it up at a new endeavor? Well, for one thing, it helps tremendously to be committed to pursuing that endeavor for a long time.
How is it that the charter school administrators are so smitten by the rank inexperience of their young teachers that they are anxious to move these teachers out just as they are starting to become accomplished? (A hint in the article may be the youth of the administrators themselves.) I worry that deep down, underneath the infatuation with the Teach for America model, the real answer lies in the belief that teaching isn’t really a skill that you have to put much effort into. In the final quote of the article, 24-year-old Tyler Dowdy says “I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing, and always moving onto something bigger and better.” This tells me that Mr. Dowdy considers teaching, or at least his own teaching, to be small and not so good.
That’s a sad state of affairs.