A digital friend of mine named John Holland–who teaches preschool in Virginia and writes a terrific blog subtitled "Leading from the Start"–sparked my thinking the other day, comparing teaching to athletics:
"Is teaching the little leagues? Where you take every player you get and build on their strengths or is it the big leagues where all of the players that are just average have given up or been cut and only those who are truly the best in their position stay.
Up until now teaching has been a little league. That is why baseball players make more money ;)(wink)"
My first reaction to John’s thoughts was that the teaching profession definitely resembles "the little leagues." Heck, we’re the veritable Bad News Bears of the educated work world–lovable little tykes with a "Can Do" attitude even while losing 15 straight games.
There’s always a Kelly or two on our teams—ready to use their incredible skills to carry our teams to the championship games—but they’re surrounded by guys like Timmy Lupus and Engelberg who mean well but can’t play worth a lick. More than a few schools are led by Morris Buttermakers—washed up fellas with a trick or two left in the bag, but not enough to really inspire a group of misfits.
How did we get in this pickle?
It sure doesn’t help that entry into our profession is protected like home plate in a 12-0 ballgame. Literally anyone can teach in our country—and those who don’t are convinced that they can. What’s more, schools have an "Everyone’s a Winner" attitude where we wrap incompetence in smiles and cotton candy. Once someone makes the team, there is little competition or criticism no matter how many errors he/she may make.
That’s one of the things that brings great scorn to our work. Critics of education like Jay Greene and the John Locke Foundation use this lack of differentiation between the "best" and the "rest" to regularly question our status as a profession. Tired of seeing a bunch of Average Joes lose to the Girl Scouts, they’re looking for Purple Cobras, feathered and lethal with a killer instinct and determination to match.
I guess a part of me doubts that we’ll ever have a deep enough candidate pool to make fine-grade choices about who "makes the cut" in our classrooms. Education struggles to attract huge numbers at our "tryouts" because we’re just not the best game in town. Poor working conditions, low status, low salaries and demanding days that rival work done in any profession only serve to drive prospective teachers away—and make it less likely that we’ll ever be able to step up to "the big leagues."
I guess I also wonder if we are really interested in the big leagues? Is accepting the responsibility that comes along with increased accountability and ownership over our profession something that we’re ready for? Are we willing to invest the kind of mental and physical energy that it takes to succeed at the top notches of any profession?
Or are we happy just sitting on the bench?