Why I NEVER Recommend Teaching as a Profession

I came to pretty startling realization this week, y'all:  If I had it to do all over again, I'm pretty darn sure that I wouldn't choose teaching as a profession.

Don't get me wrong: I still love working with students. 



Knowing that each day brings opportunities to have an impact on lives really IS incredibly rewarding — and every time one of the kids that I taught risks detention by sneaking out of the cafeteria to come and say hello, I remember that the work I'm doing matters.

But the sad truth is that #edpolicy decisions — the decisions that govern every aspect of my work — are increasingly made by politically driven nitwits who almost never have a clue about what really works in education

Take the recent proposal by North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger to end teacher tenure and to institute a merit pay program based on standardized test scores as an example.

Sounds great in theory, right? 

How could anyone argue with a law that establishes formal rewards and punishments for teachers?  Accountability matters, the thinking goes, and there's been too little accountability in education for far too long.  Berger says it this way:

"Until we get the policy right, I don’t think the taxpayers of this state are prepared or should be asked to put more money into the public schools than we are presently."

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/04/23/2020962/senate-leader-berger-proposes.html#storylink=cpy

Here's the hitch in Ol' Phil's argument:  He's not even CLOSE to getting the policy right.

Research has proven that merit pay schemes like the one that Phil is proposing actually lead to WORSE performance in any field that requires anything more than "rudimentary cognitive skill," a point that Daniel Pink makes time and again in Drive — his book on the economics of motivation — and in this RSA Animate talk.

But research doesn't matter to legislators like Berger, y'all.  Getting reelected does.

And getting people to the polls with sexy legislation that feeds into the myths that voters like to believe about what works and what doesn't — something that Pink calls "American folklore" — is WAY easier and WAY cheaper than building support for effective policies built on a thorough understanding of the characteristics of quality learning spaces and experiences.

Stew in THAT for a minute, would you?

We are literally living in a world where the primary motivation behind the proposals that determine what schools look like ISN'T designing the kinds of learning environments that our kids deserve.  Instead, the primary motivation behind the proposals that determine what schools look like is designing the kinds of learning environments that might get a legislator reelected. 


But we are also living in a world that's unlikely to change anytime soon. 

The kinds of policies that would really improve our schools will cost far more — particularly in the form of providing teachers with more time and/or fewer students to work with — than most Americans are willing to pay.  What's more, the kinds of policies that would really improve our schools aren't quick fixes — and with the next election right around the corner, legislators ain't got time for patience.

Which all makes teaching a pretty discouraging profession. 

Those of us who stay will struggle to make crappy policies work — and STILL end up on the bottom of the political dog-pile when they don't.  Worse yet, we'll be called lazy by the very people whose crappy policies created all of the problems in education to begin with.

Does that sound like the kind of work environment that YOU'D recommend to anyone?


Related Radical Reads:

Note to Arne: Cash Incentives NEVER Work

Need MORE Proof that Incentives are Dangerous?

The Monster You've Created

Merit Pay for Teachers Are a Bad Idea



15 thoughts on “Why I NEVER Recommend Teaching as a Profession

  1. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Michael,
    First, thanks for stopping by the Radical! Good to see you in this space and hope that youre doing well.
    Second, youre right: Focusing on the kids is the only way that we can keep ourselves moving forward in this profession. Thats something @stumptheteacher reminded me of shortly after I finished this bit. Check out what he posted on his blog:
    Pretty cool reminder, huh?
    And pretty sweet slide!
    Anyway, rock right on…

  2. Bill Ferriter

    J wrote:
    Now Im torn between staying in the classroom and mitigating the damage
    being done to my students or turning to some kind of larger advocacy. I
    dont know what steps to take, but Im tired of being treated like a
    low-level seasonal employee instead of a professional with two degrees
    and a decade of experience. I feel Ive invested too much to walk
    away–but its getting more tempting.
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Hey J,
    Quick bit of advice from a guy that is 19 years into this career: If youre thinking about making a move beyond the profession, do it now. Once you get to the point where you are closer to retirement — and the benefits that youve spent decades building — its even harder to walk away than it is for you right now.
    I love teaching kids — but right now, I dont love the teaching profession at all.
    It certainly feels like its too late to make a change now though.
    Anyway….sorry for more rain clouds, but it is what it is.
    Rock on,

  3. Michael

    This same issue has driven me nuts in my short career also. I will share part of a paper I wrote in an unsuccessful attempt to get a White House Fellows position.
    [I have absolutely no idea why politicians seem to continually bring up merit pay thinking that educational systems can be run like corporations. Plus,] merit pay doesn’t work. Vanderbilt University did a study of 300 math teachers. Half were offered a $15,000 bonus for students to meet a criteria, half were offered no bonus. At the end of the 3 year study there were no discernible differences between the two groups.
    While investigating the possibility of merit pay, J. Aaron documented over 600 variables in the teaching task outside of the control of the teacher; including the availability of both parents at home, the student’s socio-economic status, and the discipline and structure of the students home environment, just to name a few.
    I know that I am preaching to the choir. Morale is low across the country in education. I would like to give some words of encouragement. Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Enjoy the world our profession has created, and think about the future we will foster and build. Focus on the positive. That’s what I tell myself.
    I might send my paper to my representative…

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Lee wrote:
    Im not immune to the legislation in the job Im in right now, but at
    least I dont feel like Im constantly doing something TO my students
    rather than FOR my students.
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    First, thanks for stopping by Lee! You remain one of the most influential people in my digital world.
    Second, this quote rang true for me this morning — considering Im about to spend the next two days giving end of grade practice tests and the next month either keeping my kids quiet as other students on campus start their testing or while we take our own end of grade.
    How crazy is that? If thats not an example of doing things to rather than for my students, I dont know what is.
    Whats frightening is that the only way out of this pickle is to leave the classroom. How heartbreaking is that?
    Anyway….gotta go start reading the teacher manual for our test today.

  5. Jleung10

    I too feel conflicted when I hear a former student is studying education or wants to teach K-12. I try not to be a raincloud of gloom, but I also don’t sugar coat the realities.
    I joined the ranks in 2002 at the start of NCLB, so my entire career has been defined by those policies and the pressure of standardized testing. I’ve watched it warp and distort teaching and learning–turning the flame of passionate teachers into ash and smoke.
    If I had to do it over again, I don’t know if I would have chosen education. My high school guidance counselor specifically told me not to become a teacher and I was horrified. How could anyone tell me that teaching was a terrible idea? Now that I’ve given ten years of my life to this profession, I understand what she meant.
    Now I’m torn between staying in the classroom and mitigating the damage being done to my students or turning to some kind of larger advocacy. I don’t know what steps to take, but I’m tired of being treated like a low-level seasonal employee instead of a professional with two degrees and a decade of experience. I feel I’ve invested too much to walk away–but it’s getting more tempting.
    Bottom line: as a country we need to decide what we mean by “education.” As it stands, the policies in place are more about training and conformity than they are about learning. I signed up to be a teacher of human beings, not a trainer of worker bees.

  6. Lindsey Edwards

    Hey Bill,
    I found this post very insightful and sadly it is true that teaching is not a profession that is respected. You are spot on with the problem in our education system today. It should never be about test scores, but about true learning and growth in the students. The legislators only concern is appealing to the public and they do not truly see the harm they are doing to educators as well as the students who are the future generation. I like and agree with where you said that we are living in a world where legislators primary motivation is not to create learning environments that kids deserve but ones they think will look good and get them reelected. Until they realize the effects of their actions this will never change and education systems will not become any better. I really enjoyed reading your post and I will be summarizing my comments as well as the post in my class blog today at http://edwardslindseyedm310.blogspot.com/
    Lindsey Edwards

  7. LJ

    Motivated by the exact frustrations you articulate here, I’ve got a meeting with a friend in the General Assembly in a few hours to ask him directly who, if anyone, elected there will listen to we teachers, and what we need to do to get their collective attention. I don’t have my hopes up, but I do trust him to speak frankly to me.
    My frustrations echo yours, and are compounded by the utter lack of response to any of my multiple attempts at communication to our elected and appointed political and educational leaders (sic) here in NC.
    Altruism and a martyr complex shouldn’t be prerequisites to joining the teaching profession. It seems that such is exactly what it’s coming down to, though.

  8. Lee Kolbert

    Once again you hit the nail on the head. I completely agree with you and that is why I left the classroom. I’m not immune to the legislation in the job I’m in right now, but at least I don’t feel like I’m constantly doing something TO my students rather than FOR my students. I do think that new teachers, who don’t know how things used to be, are better able to adapt.
    Great post!

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Cynthia,
    Good to see you stop by — and sorry to be such a downer.
    The truth is that teachers are often stuck in the middle of a political tug of war, and if we can focus on our kids and only our kids, that CAN be easy to ignore. But in the past few years, politicians have made it harder and harder to ignore their crappy decisions in the name of accountability.
    That leaves us holding the bag. We implement their poor choices. The choices fail. We get the blame.
    Its frustrating — and its worth being aware of if youre entering the profession. Teaching isnt all smiles and candycorn.
    Hope this helps,

  10. Lee Welter

    A K-12 monopoly, especially one controlled by politicians, is a recipe for failure. School choice for every family is sure to result in better quality and lower costs.

  11. Cynthia Ford

    Hi Mr. Ferriter,
    I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class. Your post is an eye opener on some issues I will face as a future educator. I know I will face many challenges as an educator and I appreciate your passion for teaching and sharing the frustrations that go along with the job.

  12. Phsprincipal

    Answers to above cited problems: A. Term limits and taking big money out of government. B. Using the $billion$ spent on useless textbooks and tests to fund real reform for teacher training/development, as well as reducing student to teacher ratio. For my next joke…….

  13. ms_teacher

    There are times when I wonder why I made the decision to go into teaching 11 years ago as I began at the start of the “reform” and “accountability” movement. I don’t think anyone could really have imagined how bad it would (and has) become. I’m not so sure I would have made the same decision now, even though when I get a chance to work with students, I still find great joy in it. It is the adults who think they know more than those in the trenches that make this job miserable.

  14. Matt Townsley

    Hey Bill,
    Your points are appear to be valid and I realize there’s likely some personal context behind this frustration-filled post. Ed policies continue to pile up and system innovation and creativity appear to be stifled before our very eyes. One constant remains: a profession that gives human beings an opportunity to influence the next generation. I’d still recommend teaching (and education in general) to my son, because even despite the “crappy policies,” it’s still rewarding to interact with young men and women. Your intro nailed the reason – the love of working with students. #alwayshave #alwayswill

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