Monday, May 21, 2007

What It Means to Teach....

.... a book by Amy Demarest & Ellen David Friedman is reviewed in the Monthly Review. Most of the conclusions seem very reasonable though the points about the research showing that the quality of teachers and student achievement is as much of a major factor (sounds a lot like Klein and Cerf) and that salary alone will have a major impact. I believe that most people who leave teaching in public schools do so because of working conditions. Check out the elite private schools in NYC - the kind of people they attract and the salaries they make. Here are the opening paragraphs of the review. The entire article is at Norm's Notes.


Although some idealize and others demean the work of teachers, few people outside the field fully understand what it really means to teach. Misconceptions about teaching influence the ways that Americans think about the profession. One of the manifestations of this enduring disconnect between the American public and the professionals who teach is the low salaries teachers receive. This is the main issue that Moulthrop, Calegari, and Eggers tackle in this thorough and valuable ethnographic study of the lives of teachers, their daily struggle to make ends meet, and what it means to teach.

The authors challenge the perception that teachers have it pretty easy and instead paint a compelling tale of the inspiration and desperation that teachers experience in their professional lives. They examine what keeps teachers in a profession where they feel undervalued, and what makes them leave. They include the voices of educational experts, policy makers, and other players involved in all aspects of the educational system.

The main premise of this book is that teachers need and deserve a decent salary, and that schools will improve when they're able to attract, support, and retain "the best and the brightest" by paying higher salaries.

Daniel Moulthrop, Ninive Clements Calegari, and Dave Eggers, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers (New York: The New Press, 2006), 355 pages, hardcover, $25.95.

Continued at Norm's Notes.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting the review. The way I see it, any call to improve any facet of the profession is good.

    The review doesn't mention a critical problem for our profession: that both the pundits and that modern politicians constantly overlook the students' social/psychological developmental issues. For example Puberty is at the heart of numerous problems and yet these days it seems to be yet another 2 ton very smelly elephant in the room that everyone chooses to ignore along with poverty, a pervasive lack of parentlng skills, and cultural differences heading up the short list.

    While I agree that providing a substantial increase in compensation will certainly attract talented people, improving compensation alone isn't going to enable the systemic changes needed to improve public education (not matter how one chooses to define improve). Privitization certainly will not provide the answers to the problems of public education particularly urban public education. It should be clear to virtually anyone familiar with the problems of education that, in fact, privitization, with it a profit motive at its core, will most certainly create even more problems for society to deal with since even fewer resources will actually get to the children. At least in the public sector limited resources are an understandable by-product of public financing. In a privitized educational system isn't it logical that given the limited dollars available to education, and given the need to make a profit, that these things necessitiate that less money will go to the children. Isn't the ability to make money why the privatizers hover over Tweed and the DOE like vultures hover over a dying animal just waiting for it to expire?

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  2. No one enters teaching thinking they will make money. Thus, when people leave it is my sense they do so for other reasons-- working conditions. I can't tell you how many excellent teachers I know who went from public to private schools for less money and benefits.

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